San Francisco Ballet’s magical production of Tchaikovsky’s beloved Nutcracker opens Friday, December 7, 2012, at War Memorial Opera House, and is always a special treat with its distinctive bow to San Francisco. Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson’s production is set in San Francisco on Christmas Eve during the 1915 Pan Pacific International Exposition, an extraordinary world’s fair that transformed San Francisco into a dream-like city of magical domes and pastel-colored buildings. The ballet opens with a stunning collage of black and white photos from the actual world’s fair, with shots of the Palace of Fine Arts, the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, Chinatown, and the famous “Painted Lady” Victorians of Alamo Square. It gradually narrows in on 100 painted Victorian windows until landing at the toymaker Drosselmeyer’s window and the mysterious world of magic and wonder contained therein. The photos on the fireplace wall at the home in Act I are family photos of the founders of San Francisco Ballet, the visionary Christensen Brothers. And, in the Act I battle scene (between the mice and the gingerbread soldiers), the giant fireplace stands 22 feet tall and 19 feet wide, about the size of two SF cable cars stacked on top of each other. The gorgeous combination of dance, Tchaikovsky’s romantic music and the beautiful costumes are punctuated by real magic tricks, orchestrated by the production’s own magic consultant, Menlo Park illusionist Marshall Magoon. He has made sure that Uncle Drosselmeyer, who makes toys change size and come to life, is unforgettable. Of course, the very best trick up Drosselmeyer’s sleeve is when he commands the Christmas tree to grow and grow and GROW and it does! Nutcracker is mesmerizing in all respects. Plan on taking the family, or someone very special, to this delightful holiday classic.
SF Ballet’s very first Sugar Plum on life before spandex: Gisella Caccialanza Christensen was the prima ballerina who danced the Sugar Plum Fairy role with the San Francisco Ballet when it staged the first complete U.S. performance of the ballet on Christmas Eve, 1944. Her partner was her brother-in-law, William Christensen, then the company’s director and her husband, Lew Christensen, was serving in the army. With a $1,000 budget, Company members helped by standing in long lines to purchase fabric for costumes in 10-yard lengths, as dictated by wartime rationing. ”The production’s “Onna White helped me make my costume, which was really awful. We made our own tights then too. They weren’t like tights worn today. We had to sew our stockings onto little pants to make tights and, like old-style tights, they’d bag out and wouldn’t bounce back and cling to your legs. We sewed pennies or nickels to the waistbands so we’d have something to grab onto to yank up the tights. You couldn’t practice plies or anything before a performance or else you’d be standing there with baggy knees when the curtain came up. The zipper on my costume split while I was dancing in the dress rehearsal of Nutcracker. I remember William saying to me, ‘Good luck, sis, and don’t breathe!’” (Quote courtesy of SF Ballet.) Ms. Christensen, a long-time resident San Bruno, passed in 1998 at the age of 83.
Six Family Performances with gifts & pre-performance Photo Op: For six performances only, the first 500 children to arrive at War Memorial Opera House will receive a special gift and, at intermission, everyone will enjoy complimentary beverages and sweet treats by Miette, the official bakery of SF Ballet’s Nutcracker. One hour prior to curtain, Nutcracker characters pose for photos for 30 minutes, so bring your camera. Lines for entry to War Memorial Opera House and for photos form early, so arrive early. Photo lines must be stopped 30 minutes prior to curtain so the dancers aren’t late for the performance. The six family performances will be held on: Fri, 12/ 7, 7pm; Sun, 12/ 9, 7pm; Tue, 12/11, 7pm; Wed, 12/12, 7pm; Thu, 12/13, 7pm; Fri, 12/14, 2pmHelp SF Ballet win “Battle of the Nutcrackers” on Ovation TV: You can brush up on San Francisco Ballet’s splendid production by watching this year’s “Battle of the Nutcrackers” on Ovation TV featuring the Company’s 2008 production, with Elizabeth Powell as Clara, on Sunday, December 9 at 3 p.m. SF Ballet’s production is the only American production to compete in this festive annual ballet extravaganza. SF Ballet’s production will also broadcast on Mon, Dec 10, 2 pm PST; Mon, Dec 17, 12:30pm PST; Thu, Dec 20, 10 am PST; Sun, Dec 23, 3pm PST; Tue, Dec 25, 1:30pm PST.
“Battle of the Nutcrackers” is an annual competition on Ovation TV (which plays on Direct TV Channel 274 and other Bay Area service providers as well) and features six Nutcracker productions from around the world: SF Ballet, the Mariinsky Theatre Ballet, The Royal Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet, Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, and the Australian Ballet. Viewers are invited to watch the various productions and vote on their favorite on Ovation TV’s “Battle of the Nutcrackers” Facebook page. The full broadcast schedule is here.
To vote for SF Ballet’s Nutcracker, click here, then scroll down to SF Ballet, and hit the yellow VOTE button. You may vote as many times as you want and do not need to enter the sweepstakes contest at the bottom of the page in order to vote. The Viewers’ Choice will be revealed on Christmas Eve, December 24th at 8:00pmET. A marathon of all the productions will air all day on Christmas Day, December 25th.Ovation TV runs on Direct TV Channel 274 and other Bay Area service providers as well. To find Ovation TV in your area, click here to be re-directed to their website where you will enter your zip code
Nutcracker Details: Nutcracker opens Friday, December 7, 2012 and runs through December 28, 2012. San Francisco Ballet performs at the historic War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco. Parking: Civic Center Garage on McAllister Street between Larkin and Polk or Performing Arts Garage on Grove between Franklin and Gough streets. Traffic delays are common particularly on 101 Southbound around the Golden Gate Bridge and parking can be time-consuming, so plan adequately. No late seating: SF Ballet enforces a strict no late seating policy, meaning that guests will not be seated after the lights have dimmed. Latecomers will be asked to stand until there is a break in the program, and will be seated at the discretion of management. Tickets: $20 – $305, purchase online here or through Box Office (415) 865-2000, Monday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Information: www.sfballet.org or (415) 865-2000
Bringing Children: San Francisco Ballet recommends that children attending Nutcracker be at least 5 years old. Any child who can sit in his own seat and quietly observe a two-hour performance without questions is welcome. Booster seats for children are provided free of charge for use on the Orchestra level. No infants may be brought to a performance. Parents should take children creating a disturbance during the ballet out of the performance hall.
Love Ballet? Don’t miss “Nureyev: A Life in Dance” and the fabulous Degas drawing in “The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism,” both at San Francisco’s de Young Museum now:
“You live as long as you dance” was Rudolf Nureyev’s mantra throughout his meteoric rise as an internationally acclaimed dancer, choreographer, ballet master, and company director. In celebration of the 20th anniversary of Nureyev’s death, and his remarkable career and art, the de Young Museum is exhibiting more than 70 costumes from ballets danced by the master from every period of his long career— Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, and Manfred among them— as well as a selection of photographs, , life-size dance videos, and ephemera that chronicles his illustrious life. Rudolf Nureyev: A Life in Dance explores Nureyev’s life in dance and his lifelong obsession with the details of fabric, decoration, and stylistic line. As a meticulous performer, the Russian ballet master demanded costumes that were not only beautiful, but precisely engineered to suit the physical demands of his dance. He also loved embellishment and these costumes reflect his highly-refined aesthetic, standing as fantasias of embroidery, jewels, and braid. Rudolf Nureyev: A Life in Danceoffers an intimate view of the man behind the grand gestures, a man, as Mikhail Baryshnikov said, who “… had the charisma and simplicity of a man of the earth, and the inaccessible arrogance of the gods.”
Organized in collaboration with the Centre national du costume de scène in Moulins, France, and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the de Young Museum is the exhibition’s exclusive U.S. venue.
Great Christmas Gift! The accompanying catalogue, Rudolf Nureyev: A Life in Dance, presents Nureyev’s extraordinary ballet costumes and career, recalling key dates and performances with more than 200 photographs in color and black-and-white. Bilingual text in English and French. 160 pages. Hardcover $29.95. Available exclusively in the Museum Stores, or online at shop.famsf.org.
Don’t Miss the Degas! If you’re at the de Young Museum, don’t miss Edgar Degas’ spectacular charcoal drawing, “Two Dancers” (1905), in the second gallery of their other special exhibition, The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism (September 15-December 30, 2012.) This is a huge graphic work imbued with the very essence of dance—graceful movement. No one understood and could convey the anatomy of the dancer and movement like Degas who created this as part of a series of preparing dancers. Nearly half of all Degas’ paintings and pastels are of dancers. When asked why he drew so many, he replied, ” It is only there that I can discover the movement of the Greeks.” (catalogue p. 36) The exhibition itself includes of over 60 artworks from William S. Paley’s remarkable collection of 19th and early 20th century art. Paley bought this Degas drawing in 1935 from the important French dealer Ambroise Vollard and it was rarely exhibited both before and after his purchase.
De Young Details: Rudolf Nureyev: A Life in Dance runs (October 6, 2012 – February 17, 2013). The de Young Museum is located at 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Parking: By entering Golden Gate Park from 8th Avenue (at Fulton Street), you can park for free for 4 hours on the street on John F. Kennedy Drive and have easy access to the museum. Otherwise, enter on 10th Avenue (at Fulton) and park at the Music Concourse Garage (M-F $4.50/hour and $5/hour on weekends). Tickets: $20 Adults; $16 seniors, students with I.D.; $10 youth 6-17; members and children free. Fee includes access to all museum collections and exhibitions including The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism which closes Sunday, December 30, 2012. More information: (415) 750-3600 or deyoung.famsf.org.
Puccini’s “Tosca” opens Thursday, November, 15, 2012 at San Francisco Opera with two different casts—Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu and American Patricia Racette will split the lead role of Tosca
An intoxicating beauty, a lecherous villain, boldfaced treachery and murder, topped off by a spectacular suicide: Puccini’s Tosca delivers high drama with a supremely lyrical score that never fails to entertain. San Francisco Opera (SFO) closes its fall season with what looks to be a marvelous Tosca, conducted by SF Opera Music Director Nicola Luisotti and featuring two renowned casts of principal singers, rotating between 12 performances, as was the case with Rigoletto, which opened SFO’s fall season. Splitting the role of Tosca, Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu and American soprano and former Adler Fellow, Patricia Racette—two very strong but different voices—promise to enliven the production. Directed by former Adler fellow, Jose Maria Condemi, the production features a gorgeous series of tromp-l’oeil sets designed by Thierry Bosquet and inspired by a 1932 SFO production. Also starring are Italian tenor Massimo Giordano, in his SFO debut, and third-year Adler Fellow, American tenor Brian Jagde as Mario Cavaradossi, and Italian baritone Roberto Frontali and Mark Delavan (former Merolini Woton in recent SFO’s 2011 Ring Cycle, as Baron Scarpia. The final two performances will be conducted by Resident Conductor Giuseppe Finzi.
Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu opens the opera on Thursday, singing beside Massimo Giordano as Mario Cavaradossi and Roberto Frontali as baron Scarpia. Gheorghiu returns to SFO following her highly praised 2008 appearance as Mimi in La Bohème. Gheorghiu, known for her theatricality and fiery temperament is well suited for Tosca, one of the great diva soprano roles that not only requires powerful singing but convincing acting as well. For the opera to really succeed, Tosca needs to seduce not only those men on stage but the entire house too. Gheorghiu has previously sung Tosca at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden and Deustche Oper Berlin. She made her SFO debut in 2007 as Magda in Puccini’s La Rondine, a role she reprises this season at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden.
American dramatic soprano Patricia Racette is up on Friday, singing beside Brian Jagde as Mario Cavaradossi and Mark Delavan as Baron Scarpia. She is known for her spectacular suicide leap, which Tosca takes from a castle parapet at the end of the opera. Racette garnered accolades and headlines for the role of Tosca in 2010 when she in stepped in on late notice to make her Met role debut and has since reprised the role at Washington National Opera, the Ravinia Festival and again at the Metropolitan Opera.
Racette also continues her more than 20-year relationship with SFO which she began as a college senior when she won first prize in the Merola Opera Program auditions. She made her debut with the San Francisco Opera in 1989 as the voice of the priestess in Aida. She sang several more roles with SFO while in the Merola program, including Alice Ford in Falstaff, Rosalinda in Die Fledermaus, Sister Osmina in Suor Angelica, and Freia and Helmwige in The Ring Cycle. In 1991, she was made an Adler Fellow which led to several more performances at the SFO over the next two years, including Micaëla in Carmen, Dunyasha in War and Peace, the First Lady in The Magic Flute, and Mimì in La bohème. She most recently appeared at SFO in 2010, as Marguerite in Gounod’s Faust and in 2009 as each of the three heroines in Puccini’s triptych Il Trittico. She has performed in 29 mainstage productions with the Company.
In SFCV interview with Jason Serinus on 11/6/2012, Racette said “My teacher calls it my ‘glove opera.’ My voice is so very, very happy doing this part. It really likes to function just the way this role does….I love that he (Puccini) gives her (Tosca) these magnificent, soaring passages. I don’t feel like I’m singing when I’m doing it. It feels like completely raw emotion riding on music, as though I’m saying things or screaming things. And that’s what’s so masterfully presented in the score. When she drops into the lower part of her voice, there’s more of a maturity to her. It’s unlike any of Puccini’s other roles.”
This production, which was first conceived by opera impresario and stage director Lotfi Mansouri in 1997, is a re-creation of Armando Agnini’s Tosca production that opened the War Memorial Opera House on October 15, 1932 and featured the acclaimed Italian soprano, Claudia Muzio. The national anthem and first act of the opera were broadcast nationally and the opera and the house were given accolades. What better way to kick-off the holiday season than in this historic building with this dramatic and endearing opera.
Jose Maria Condemi’s staging is always interesting and innovative but true to Puccini’s very detailed staging instructions. For SFO’s June 2009 Tosca production, he was praised for cleverly moving the chorus members/extras on the stage so that they had real presence despite their non-speaking roles.
Masestro Luisotti always delights in his passionate conduciting of the SF Opera Orchestra and promises to be one of the highlights of the this production.
Run time is 2 hours and 40 minutes with two intermissions.
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.
Performances: The twelve performances of Tosca are November 15 (7:30 p.m.), November 16 (8 p.m.), November 18 (2 p.m.), November 20 (8p.m.), November 21 (7:30 p.m.), November 24 (8 p.m.), November 25 (2 p.m.), November 27 (8 p.m.), November 28 (7:30 p.m.), November 29 (7:30 p.m.), December 1 (8 p.m.) and December 2, 2012 (2 p.m.). Click here to see cast scheduling information. Tickets: $22 to $340 at the Box Office, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, by phone at (415) 864-3330 or purchase online here. Standing Room tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance; $10 each, cash only.
Saturday night’s Merola Grand Finale performance at War Memorial Opera House gave the public a chance to experience what a summer of intensive training has done for the 23 talented young singers in the prestigious opera book camp. The three hour concert featured a captivating and eclectic mix of 19 demanding opera arias, duets and songs, chosen by the fellows to showcase their voices. The audience, packed with family members, friends, and opera lovers, was so enthusiastic that, twice, it burst into spontaneous applause interrupting a performance in progress. No problem!…all was taken in stride.
Tenor Casey Candebat, from New Orleans, delivered a remarkable and haunting “Porquoi me réveiller,” the third act aria in Massenet’s Werther. Candebat sang with so much feeling that he transported the audience right into Werther’s melody. Candebat’s chemistry with mezzo-soprano, Sarah Mesko, as Charlotte, who sang with passion to match his, was palpable. The duet evoked whoops and cheers all around. Candebat is one of 6 strong lyric tenors in the Merola program this year, quite a feat.
Mezzo Soprano Erin Johnson, from New Jersey, was exceptional in “Their spinning wheel unwinds Dreams,” from Benjamin Britten’s two act chamber opera, The Rape of Lucretia. Her lush and lovely legato, and dramatic stage presence transported us into Lucretia’s world of loss and despair. Johnson’s voice blended beautifully with soprano Rose Sawvel and mezzo-sopranos Sarah Mesko and Carolyn Sproule.
Powerhouse soprano Elizabeth Baldwin wowed me with her sensational voice and commanding presence in the second half of the program. As she sang Medora’s stunning solo from Act 1 of Verdi’s Il Corsaro, I felt chills…caught in the grips of overpowering but doomed love.
Tenor AJ Glueckert, from Portland, Oregon, who left his mark on all who heard him as the Man with the Paint Brush in July’s Merola performance of Postcards from Morocco, closed the first part of the evening with the pleasing and very difficult duet “At Last I’ve Found You,” from Samuel Barber’s Vanessa, performed with soprano Melinda Whittington.
In addition to singing, most of the fellows can act. The program trains them in movement and acting, role preparation and offers several performance opportunities throughout the summer. (See ARThound’s 7.17.2012 article The Merola Opera Program presents Dominick Argento’s rarely performed opera,“Postcard from Morocco,” this Thursday and Saturday, at Cowell Theatre, Fort Mason.) Canadian Bass baritone, Gordon Bintner, who has that “it” factor in spades, along with dashing good looks, lent a natural comedic air and grace to his Belcore in Donizetti’s “Come Paride vezzoso” and to his Taddeo in Rossini’s “Orsù, la tua nipote…Pappataci! Che mai sento!,” from L’Italiana in Algeri which he performed with Tenor Joshua Baum as Lindoro and Bass-baritone Seth Mease Carico as Mustafà. Baritone Joseph Lattanzi doned goggles and hammed it up as Jupiter, a buzzing singing fly in the annoyed ear of soprano Rose Sawvel. The duo were hysterical.
Bass Andrew Kroes, from Wisconsin, delivered Marcel’s moving battle song “Piff, paff,” from Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots, with great aplomb.
The accompaniment, under the Nicholas McGegan’s apt conducting, was impressive, especially Berlioz’s exhilarating masterpiece overture, “Béatrice et Bénédict,” which opened the evening. In the first song, Lully’s “Il faut asser,” from Alceste, I had trouble hearing the voices over the orchestra, a problem which quickly resolved itself. Adam Luftman’s lush trumpet solo in the program’s second half— “Povero Ernesto!…Cercherò lontana terra” from Donizetti’s Don Pasquale—was divine.
Apprentice stage director Jennifer Williams’ staging was baffling—she went for a minimalistic look, placing a tufted velvet divan on one side of the stage and an antique chair tilted on its side on other side. In between them was a lamp sporting a naked light bulb. All this was against the elegant arched wooden back-drop of the Moby Dick set. A few prop pieces were added here and there to give diversity to the 19 scenes that she was responsible for, but she did not waver from her minimalist approach. It was awful to be in the audience, in a darkened environment, hoping to see the singers’ faces and instead be subject to the intense and unrelenting glare of that blasted bulb.
The evening ended with a glorious “Già che il caso ci unisce…Bevo al tuo fresco sorriso,” from Giacomo Puccini’s opera, La Rondine (The Swallow), bringing most of the fellows on stage. Once again, soprano Elizabeth Baldwin, as Magda, made an impression. Her powerful richly textured voice projected above the others—and with her commanding stage presence—I could not help but circle her name and scrawl beside it several exclamation points. All these singers are going places but she’s on my watch list.
More About Merola: Guided by Sheri Greenawald, San Francisco Opera Center Director and internationally acclaimed soprano, the Merola Opera Program is an independent nonprofit organization which operates in collaboration with the San Francisco Opera. Founded in 1957 and named for San Francisco Opera’s founder, Gaetano Merola, the Program is recognized as one of the most prestigious operatic training programs in the world. The Merola Opera Program typically receives more than 800 applications for approximately 30 positions. Throughout the summer, the Merola artists participate in master classes and private coachings with opera luminaries and go on give several public performances. Participants—who include singers, apprentice coaches and an apprentice stage director—also receive training in operatic repertory, foreign languages, diction, acting and stage movement.
Jun Kaneko’s Delightful “Magic Flute”–a digital turning point–at San Francisco Opera through July 8, 2012
San Francisco Opera’s Summer Season closes its opera performances with its magical and revolutionary new production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute featuring 3,000 tempura and chalk paintings by legendary ceramic artist and painter, Jun Kaneko. Good bye traditional sets! We’re entering a brand new era–the entire stage contains projection panels and is in constant motion and the effect is utterly impressive. Kaneko’s fabulous costumes add to the experience. This time, the music takes a back seat to the visual.
The Magic Flute is at War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco. Performances are at 8 p.m. on June 16, June 19, June 29 and July 6; 7:30 p.m. June 21 and 27; 2 p.m. June 24 and July 8, 2012. Tickets are $21 to $288 Information: (415) 864-3330, www.sfopera.com
I’ll be at tomorrow’s matinee performance of John Adams’ Nixon in China which opened San Francisco Opera’s Summer Season to rave reviews on June 8, 2012. Afterwards, I’m going to meet acclaimed Marin artist Michael Schwab in the Opera Shop, where he will be signing the striking limited edition poster he created especially for this San Francisco Opera production. His bold portrait of Richard Nixon in profile, against a vivid red backdrop, is elegant in its simplicity. While focused on Nixon, it implies much more and the closer you look, the more you see. The artwork is available as a limited edition poster, reproduced in two sizes, and is also featured on the cover of the Company’s Nixon in China program book. Last week, I had the pleasure of talking with Michael Schwab about his creative process, something like a studio visit by phone, and will be publishing that shortly.
From his studio in Marin, Michael Schwab has established a national reputation as one of America’s leading graphic artists. Dramatic in its simplicity, Schwab’s 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 and Boris Godunov in 1992.
Schwab’s Nixon in China poster is printed on archival fine art paper and is available as an unsigned 16″x24″ poster ($75) and a signed 24″x36″ collector’s poster ($150) through the San Francisco Opera Shop at the War Memorial Opera House and online at www.sfopera.com . Following the Sunday, June 17, 2012, 2 p.m. matinee performance of Nixon in China, Michael Schwab will sign posters of both sizes at the Opera Shop immediately following the performance.
Details: San Francisco Opera’s Nixon in China runs for seven performances June 8-July 3, 2012 at the War Memorial Opera House. Tickets and information: www.sfopera.com.
or call (415) 864-3330.
San Francisco Ballet closes its season with “Don Quixote”—all new costumes and scenery, this Friday through May 6, 2012
Driven by stories of ancient rivalries and his vision of female perfection—Dulcinea—the wildly romantic aging nobleman Don Quixote sets off on an epic journey with his trusty squire Sancho Panza in tow. When he encounters the lovely Kitri in a gypsy camp, he is smitten believing that he has found his Dulcinea. Helgi Tomasson and Yuri Possokhov’s staging of Russian master choreographers Marius Petipa and Alexander Gorsky’s 1869 Don Quixote returns to San Francisco Ballet this Friday, April 27, 2012, with spectacular all-new scenery and costumes by Tony Award-winning designer Martin Pakledinaz. There are just 10 performances of SF Ballet’s highly anticipated season closer and if you are going to be impacted by this weekend’s Doyle Drive closure, you can skip the opening weekend and attend the following week, which offers 7 performances, starting Tuesday May 1, through Sunday, May 6, 2012, including convenient Saturday and Sunday matinees.
Miguel de Cervantes’ romantic and witty story, placed in the colorful streets of Spain, comes to life with comes to life with a lively cast of characters and the bravado and excitement of some of classical ballet’s most technically demanding dances. Under the expert conducting of Martin West and David Briskin, Austrian composer Léon Minkus’ lushly light and melodic music with its clear dance rhythms will be brought to life.
Traditionally, the scene stealer in this ballet is the live horse or donkey that makes a stage appearance, delighting the audience to no end. Most of the dancing glory in this sweeping classic ballet is in the lead role of Kitri. Vanessa Zahorian will dance the opening and Maria Kochetkova and Frances Chung will alternate thereafter. All eyes will be upon Kitri as she executes dozens of fouteé turns and triple pirouettes in the grand pas de deux which will also see her Basilio put through his paces. Joan Boada, will dance the role of the barber Basilio for the opening, with Taras Domitro, Vitor Luiz, Davit Karapetyan and Gennadi Nedvigin alternating in subsequent performances.
Helgi Tomasson, SF Ballet’s Artistic Director, discusses Martin Pakledinaz’s costumes for Don Quixote:
SF Ballet’s 2013 Season: San Francisco Ballet is the oldest professional ballet company in America and, in 2013, will celebrate 80 years of performances. SF Ballet’s 2013 Repertory Season will begin with Nutcracker, which runs December 7 through 28, 2012 for a total of 31 performances. Following the Opening Night Gala on Thursday, January 24, 2013, the season will consist of eight programs performed in alternating repertory, from January 29 to May 12. The season includes the U.S. premiere of Christopher Wheeldon’s full-length Cinderella; the Northern California premiere of Nijinsky by Hamburg Ballet Artistic Director and Chief Choreographer John Neumeier, which will be performed on Program 2 by the renowned Hamburg Ballet; the SF Ballet premiere of Serge Lifar’s Suite en Blanc; plus world premieres by Wayne McGregor, SF Ballet Choreographer in Residence Yuri Possokhov, and Alexei Ratmansky. The season will also feature works by acclaimed choreographers such as George Balanchine, John Cranko, Edwaard Liang, Mark Morris, Rudolf Nureyev, Ashley Page, Jerome Robbins, and San Francisco Ballet Artistic Director & Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson. For detailed programming information and subscription and ticket information go to SF Ballet’s 2013 season announcement.
Details: Don Quixote opens Friday, April 27, 2012 and runs through May 6, 2012 at the War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Avenue, in San Francisco’s Civic Center. (415) 865-2000 or http://www.sfballet.org.
Standing for Valhalla: the passion, endurance and strategy it takes to stand through the Ring at SF Opera
Those attending the full Ring cycle at San Francisco Opera will spend 17 hours just watching the 4 performances but for those who choose the standing room ticket option, the hours multiply. One hundred and fifty standing room tickets for last night’s opening performance of Das Rheingold went on sale at 10 a.m. yesterday morning at the War Memorial Opera House. An additional 50 tickets went on sale at 5 p.m. and all 200 were sold. Charlise Tiee, of Alameda, arrived “before 7 a.m.” and stood for 3 hours to buy the coveted #1 standing room ticket. That allowed her to stand again–at the side of opera house– and enter 70 minutes before the performance and select her place to stand for the two hour and 40 minute performance. Her standing-in-line to standing-in-performance ratio: roughly 2 to 1. “It will get better with the 4 and 5 hour performances.”
This is Tiee’s 6th Ring cycle and the 34 year old, who studied viola and piano, started her ring thing when she was 26. Tiee was a stand-out in last night’s line because she came dressed in a green satin brocade gown as Erda, the goddess of earth and mother of the three Norns. It is Erda who warns Wotan to give up the ring after taking it from Alberich. It is Erda who sees into the future and possesses great wisdom. “I’ve been planning this,” she said.
At 7:30 a.m., there were 4 people in line for the $10 standing room tickets. By 10 a.m., there were 40 people, and the line was growing. Tiee is an SF Opera subscriber but also enjoys the thrill of nabbing the first standing room ticket and the flexibility of standing “I can move around more.” Her strategy for the special evening was simple—she was going to stand on the orchestra level, on the right side by the pillar “to enhance the contrast with my outfit.” Tiee is also well known for her lively blog– The Opera Tattler—that tracks her experiences attending opera performances as a standee in San Francisco and beyond. Her writing is not limited to the performance but to what she sees and hears and “tattles” about the audience as a standee. Tiee also presides over the Opera Standees Association, a social club for people in the Bay Area who love opera and met in standing room. OSA meets and also financially sponsors a Merola Opera Program summer participant.
This really isn’t about saving money, it’s about experiencing opera,” said Tiee. “A lot of people who attend are in it for the social experience, which is fine. It’s not easy to keep standing and the people in standing room tend to be more serious and very well-informed about the performances. I have attended most of the dress rehearsals and will go to all three cycles. I am interested in how it all evolves–you hear and see things at one performance that you won’t experience again because it’s live art.”
Members of the standing group consider themselves “exceedingly lucky” because the SF Opera Company is so good and because the people in the box office are friendly and supportive of standees. This is not the case at other opera venues where standees are valued “at about the price they pay for their tickets.”
Lauren Knoblauch drove straight from Seattle on Monday evening, leaving right after work, and took a chance on standing room tickets, “Oh, I knew I could get them—they’ve got 200.” She decided to nap some but still managed to snag standing room ticket #119. Knoblauch has been to Rings all over the world and likes to travel light. Wotan has his spear and Siegfried has Nothung and she has her special ergonomic shoes—with separate toes—that make standing easy. “I haven’t heard too much about the production itself or Zambello,” said Knoblauch. “I know it goes from different ages—starting in one period and ending in another. I try not to let the production bother me. I go for the music and the singing and the acting and let the director do whatever he or she is going to do. Afterwards, I’ll tell you what I think.”
After securing her place inside the opera house on the orchestra level, Knoblauch began texting and lo and behold, Charlise Tiee, standing next to her was the recipient. As it turns out, the two have tweeted and texted each other about the performance for some time and met in person that evening. When asked about Das Rheingold’s opening video projection scenes, by Jan Hartley, of billowing clouds and waves of water, Tiee responded “I do like an interesting production. To me it looks like a video game and I’ve played a lot of video games and seen a lot of movies that feature CGI (computer generated imagery). That stuff is competing in the opera for our attention but it’s a much better match with the music than what they used in 2008.”
Ring Schedule Cycle 1: last night (June 15, 2011), Das Rheingold (2 hours, 35 minutes, no intermission); tonight, Die Walküre (4 hours, 30 minutes with two intermissions); Friday Siegfried (4 hours and 50 minutes with two intermissions); Sunday Götterdämmerung(5 hours and 15 minutes with two intermissions). The cycle repeats two more times, June 21-26 and June 28-July 3, 2011.
Standing Room for the Ring: There are 200 standing room tickets for each performance in the Ring cycle, and 150 of these go on sale at 10 a.m. the day of the performance at the War Memorial Opera House. The remaining 50 are sold 2 hours before the performance. Tickets are $10, cash only, and each person may buy 2 tickets. Standees may enter on the south side of the opera house, across the street from Davies Symphony on Grove Street, 70 minutes before the curtain time. The tickets are numbered and sold in order. One enters the opera house by number, and there is a numbered line painted on the ground outside. The standing room areas are on the orchestra level and the back of the balcony. For availability, call the Opera Box Office at (415) 864-3330
The San Francisco Ballet launched its 2011 season Saturday night with a breathtaking performance of Giselle, one of the most beloved classical ballets. SF Ballet principle dancers Yuan Yuan Tan and Artem Yachmennikov in the lead roles of Giselle and Count Albrecht, danced Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson’s 1999 production of this venerable 170 year old classic to perfection. If you haven’t been to the ballet lately, or are introducing a young one to the art form, the San Francisco Ballet, in its 78th season, and the oldest professional ballet company in America, is well worth a visit and Giselle is the classic to see—steeped in tradition and full of wispy white-tulled maidens seeking love with toe-dancing elevated to art. The production run is full of roll switches—11 different dancers in the lead roles of Giselle and Albrecht. The remarkable Yuan Yuan Tan, who seems capable of dancing on air, is certainly a Giselle to see, performing again on the closing evening, Saturday, February 12.
Giselle epitomizes all the features of classical ballet—extensive pointe work, turn-out of the legs and high extensions– all executed in graceful, flowing, precise movements. When it premiered in 1841, at the Paris Opera Ballet, it was a hit, exploring the relatively new theme in dance of a peasant in love with a nobleman. It has continued to grow in statue and is now part of the repertoire of most major companies. Tomasson has based his version of Giselle on what we know of the original 1841 French version’s choreography by Jules Perrot and Jean Coralli and on Russian Marius Petipa’s later adaptation. Tomasson has added a pas de deux for Giselle and Albrecht in Act 1 and reworked another peasant pas de deux in Act 1 to make it a pas de cinq to accommodate more dancers. The music is by French composer Adolphe Charles Adam and is significant historically because it was actually composed for the ballet, breaking with the then common practice of piecing together pre-existing melodies for ballets.
The story is unforgettable. Seen with modern eyes, it can be interpreted in many ways. Like the age-old tales of Orpheus and Eurydice or Tristan and Isolde, Giselle can be about the triumph of love over death. It also shows us the unbridgeable gap between stories repeated to us in childhood of love in far away magical places and the crushing brutality of unattainable love. I found myself toggling between the two– viewing it in hopeful childhood mode and knowing as an adult that disaster was just around the corner.
Giselle is a simple peasant girl in a Rhineland village who loves Loys and is unaware he is really a nobleman named Albrecht who is just disguised as Loys. Hilairion, a gamekeeper who is infatuated with Giselle, is jealous of Albrecht and tells Giselle his true identity. Realizing Albrecht is to going to marry someone else, Giselle goes mad; her weak heart gives out and she dies.
In Act II, the very essence of romantic ballet, the ethereal wilis, spirits of girls jilted by their lovers before their wedding day, appear at midnight and encounter Hilarion and toss him to his death. Next, they encounter Albrecht and prepare to dance him to death. Giselle intervenes and saves his life giving him the strength to dance all night. She forgives him for his prince in disguise duplicity and rescues him from the horror of feminine vengeance. By not succumbing to hateful ways of the Wilis, Giselle is freed from any association with them, and returns to her grave to rest in eternal peace. Albrecht watches her die again. If danced well, the ballet’s ending is unbearably sad but it is also a celebration of the inherent goodness in people like Giselle.
The ballet’s credibility is almost completely anchored in the expressive qualities Giselle, its heroine. Yuan Yuan Tuan, now in her thirties, gave a technically striking performance, outdancing everyone on stage in Act 1, where she plays the innocent maiden, not yet a woman. With her long limbs capable of seemingly impossible movements, she is almost too graceful, too regal to be a peasant. In Act 2, she was riveting. What extensions! On one supporting foot, you see her begin to extend her other leg effortlessly to almost 180 degrees and then push even further in astounding Penchee arabesque, an absolutely grueling pose that Tuan has turned into poetry. Paired with the dashing Artem Yachmennikov, a tall striking dancer who complements her, the two made a dazzling couple, very lyrical.
Can Tuan act? If anything, that is her shortfall, more evident in Act 2 where she needed to pull off the transition to the ethereal spirit world and convey that she has been tragically broken by the loss of love. Here, Tan played Giselle with a mental absorption that was palpable but flat in terms of dramatic tension, emotional credibility. She executed it all with astounding technical precision though—demanding acrobatic footwork and beautiful weightless adagios with Yachmennikov where she seemed to glide across the mist-filled stage.
Elana Altman, a stand-in as Myrta, Queen of the Wilis, danced the role with the imperious queen’s role with grandeur. The 24-veiled Wilis in their lovely dresses with outstretched arms, were graceful and precise executing their line dances against the backdrop of the deep forest.
Pascal Molat was fabulous as Hilarion, the rough young peasant with the heart of gold. No matter how many birds he tossed at Giselle’s door, or how perfect his footwork, she had eyes only for Loys/Albrecht.
Mikael Melbye’s set design for both acts features magnificent enormous trees, splendidly lit, giving a very organic feel to the stage.
There are six remaining performances of Giselle (with alternating principal dancers) at San Francisco’s elegant landmark War Memorial Opera House. The 2011 season includes two other classical performances: George Balanchine’s Coppélia and an All-Tchaikovsky program (Balanchine’s Theme and Variations, Kenneth MacMillan’s Winter Dreams, and the world premiere of Helgi Tomasson’s Trio). There are three mixed bill programs of modern masters that include William Forsythe’s Artifact Suite, Wayne McGregor’s Chroma, and John Neumeier’s full-length ballet, The Little Mermaid, and three mixed bill programs premiering new works by Yuri Possokhov, Helgi Tomasson and Christopher Wheeldon. The season closes with the Nutcracker.
Wilis as Slav vampires? In researching Giselle, I came across some interesting notes on the origin of wilis in “The Origins of Giselle” section of the Metropolitan’s Opera’s site (also mentioned on the wordIQ site in its definition of Slavic Fairies).
“…where do these mythical creatures come from? Meyer’s Konverationslexikon defines Wiles or Wilis as female vampires, the spirits of betrothed girls who are jilted before their wedding night. According to Heine wilis came from a Slav legend of maidens who are engaged to be married but die before their wedding. They are unable to rest in their graves because they could not satisfy their passion for dancing when they were alive. They therefore gather on the highway at midnight to lure young men and dance them to their death. There is a Slave word ‘vila’ which means vampire. The plural is vile, and wilis is probably a Germanic pronunciation of that word as a ‘w’ in German is pronounced like a ‘v’. (Puccini’s first opera is based on the same legend, in Italian Le Villi.) In Serbia they were maidens cursed by God; in Bulgaria they were known as samovily, girls who died before they were baptized; and in Poland they are beautiful young girls floating in the air atoning for frivolous past lives.”
Details: Remaining performances of Giselle: Tuesday, February 1, 2011, at 8 p.m., Wednesday, February 2, 2011, at 7:30 p.m., Friday, February 4, 2011, at 8 p.m., Thursday, February 10, 2011, at 8 p.m (features Principal Dancer, Maria Kochetkova), Saturday, February 12, 2011, at 2 and 8 p.m.(features Yuan Yuan Tan as Giselle) , and Sunday February 13, 2011 at 2 p.m. Tickets: $48 to $150.00, with a variety of attractively priced thematic packages for multiple performances. (415) 865-2000 or www.sfballet.org/performancestickets