ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

SF Opera’s “Orpheus and Eurydice”— Jakub Józef Orlinski, fabulous staging, and the rarely-performed Viennese version…all in 80 minutes


Breakdancing Polish countertenor sensation, Jakub Józef Orliński, is Orpheus in San Francisco Opera’s new production of Gluck’s “Orpheus and Eurydice.” Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

“Orpheus and Eurydice” is a story plucked from antiquity, recounting the Greek myth of Orpheus, a musician so grief-stricken at his wife’s passing that he braves the underworld to rescue her from death itself.  At SF Opera (San Francisco Opera), Christoph Willibald’s Gluck’s beloved opera, in a new dazzling production directed by Matthew Ozawa, is a not-to-be-missed experience of music, singing, dance, and inventive staging.  

Gluck’s three act opera, last performed at SF Opera 63 years ago, takes place in both the world of the living (Earth) and the world of the dead (Hades), as well as in the space between (Elysium).  It is not set in any specific time period. SF Opera’s new production is Gluck’s rarely-performed original Viennese score, first unveiled in 1762 at Vienna’s Burgtheatre, with libretto by the poet Ranieri de’ Calzabigi, sung in Italian. With Calizabigi’s collaboration, the plot had been reduced to its essentials, with the chorus taking on a larger role, and the solo and choral parts were connected closely with dance. Beforehand, I’d heard a lot about the breakdancing Polish countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński, the brain scans in Alexander V. Nichols’ rotating set, and the fluid dancing, but nothing prepared me for how seamlessly these elements all came together to create an experience of pure art.  My review pertains to the performance Friday, November 18, where I sat in the dress circle, looking down on the action.

The opera’s lively overture and curtain opened dramatically on a lone red-robed figure doing spellbinding handstands and leaps— it was Jakub Józef Orliński, the renowned Polish breakdancer and countertenor, as Orpheus, grieving his beloved wife Eurydice and experiencing flashbacks of their life together.  His mesmerizing dancing and pure athleticism immediately set him apart from all other countertenors who have sung this role. As Act I began, he cried out to the Gods to bring Eurydice back. His unexpectedly high, commanding voice took some adjusting to but I soon found his sound intoxicating. His “Che farò senza Euridice?” (“What will I do without Eurydice”) worked its heart-wrenching magic on the entire audience.  As the drama continued to unfold, Orliński became even more captivating, a star whose role seemed much larger than this singular character, someone uniquely charged to invigorate opera.  

Set & Projection designer Alexander V. Nichols’ creative staging added immensely to the production. Colorful floor projections on a rotating circular stage were reminiscent of a pinwheel but these were images of actual neurons and neural pathways from brain scans of trauma patients at USCF Medical Center, an amazing collaborative feat for SF Opera. Ozawa’s thinking was that Orpheus is traversing various phases of grief toward acceptance and his journey through his pain entails navigating memory and his own psyche. This is a rich visual tapestry of that neuro-biologic process. Since no two brains scans are alike, a myriad of beautiful patterns and colors moved before our eyes, at times resembling oceans, fauna, atmospheric turbulence adding greatly to the drama and our enjoyment, especially when viewed from the grand terrace where they could be appreciated in their entirety. One of the most effective visuals was simple and elegant—the thick black jagged line that appeared on the floor and grew like a fissure, at the moment of Eurydice’s death separating the two lovers with Orpheus singing “What will I do without my beloved.”

Jakub Józef Orliński as Orpheus and, in the background, enshrouded in her casket is his dead wife Eurydice.  The casket is evocative of Damien Hirst’s famous 1991 glass-panel display case for his tiger shark preserved in formaldehyde. Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Meigui Zhang and Jakub Józef Orliński in the title roles of Gluck’s “Orpheus and Eurydice.” Zhang and Orlinski’s flowing classically-inspired costumes were designed by Jessica Jahn, a former dancer who is interested in how garments facilitate movement. Photo: Matthew Washburn/San Francisco Opera

Meigui Zhang and Jakub Józef Orliński with dancers in Gluck’s “Orpheus and Eurydice.” Choreographer Rena Butler employed six dancers―three doubles each of Orpheus and Eurydice, who were distinguished by costumes in lighter hues of red for
Orpheus and blue for Eurydice. Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Soprano Meigui Zhang, as Eurydice, who sang with such power and touching vulnerability in her SFO debut in last season’s “The Dream of the Red Chamber,” again sang her principal role with remarkable passion, at times sounding utterly ethereal and at times on the verge of unraveling. This former Merola program graduate held her own in the dancing scenes with Orliński too, moving fluidly and expressively. In Act III, as Orpheus leads Eurydice through the underworld, she became more and more unhinged with his refusal to look at her and was convincing in her second death. But the most beautiful choreography was in the melding of their voices, creating a memorable layered beauty.

As Amore (Cupid, God of Love), radiant soprano Nicole Heaston, also a Merola program graduate, delighted the audience each time she descended from her ceiling perch in her sunny yellow gown and yards of golden fabric flowing.  Her natural comedic bend was evident when she sang Despina, the maid in SFO’s “Cosi fan tutte” last fall and had everyone in stitches.  Her Act I “Gli sguardi trattieni” was a joy both for her singing and her effervescent sparkle. This is where she tells Orfeo that his suffering will be short-lived because Jove (Jupiter) will allow him to descend into the land of the dead to retrieve Eurydice. Making this a real test, Orfeo must neither look at her, nor explain why looking is forbidden, otherwise he will lose her forever.

Nicole Heaston as Amore (Cupid) in Gluck’s “Orpheus and Eurydice”
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Music symbolizes represents Orpheus’ emotional journey. Olivier award winning conductor Peter Whelan, music director of Scottish Chamber Orchestra, also a bassoonist, singer, and champion of Baroque historic performance, led the 46 piece reduced SF Opera orchestra in a remarkably vibrant performance of Gluck’s original 1762 Vienna version of the opera.

The SF Opera Chorus sang beautifully, taking on the roles of mourners in Act I, Furies and shrouded lost souls in Act II and joyful onlookers in Act III.  Act II’s harrowing “Chi mai dell’Erebo,” sung by the furies and ghosts who are trying to deny Orpheus’ passage to the underworld, was particularly moving.  The song was ushered in by César Cañón’s harpsichord playing and punctuated by energetic dramatic orchestral runs emulating the dark sounds of the Elysian fields.

Dance also plays a vital role, depicting the memory landscape Orpheus is navigating. Orlinksi and Zhang do all of their own dancing and six dancers dressed in slightly different shades of red or blue are on stage with them acting as doubles, symbolizing Orpheus and Eurydice at different phases of their relationship. Choreographed by Rena Butler, the overall impact seemed to be to highlight Orlinski’s immense talent and the rest followed a course of natural simplicity.  


Meigui Zhang and Jakub Józef Orliński in the Elysian Fields scene in Gluck’s “Orpheus and Eurydice.” The sheer shroud fabric worn by the lost souls in the background (members of the SF Opera chorus) features portraits and writing samples from deceased family members of the opera’s creative team. Photo: Matthew Washburn/San Francisco Opera

Jakub Józef Orliński as Orpheus confronts the Furies (members of SFO’s Chorus) in Act II of “Orpheus and Eurydice.” Colorful floor projections on a rotating circular stage by Alexander V. Nichols are of actual neurons and neural pathways from brain scans of patients at USCF Medical Center. Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

I left the opera house enriched by this burst of creativity and then spent the drive home trying to dredge up what I remembered of the myth of Orpheus and how it was that, in the end of this opera, Orpheus survives and seemingly is reunited with Eurydice. I recalled that Orpheus couldn’t resist Eurydice’s pleas and gave in to the temptation to see his beloved wife again. He looked at her and, in fulfillment of prophecy, Euridyce disappeared forever and Orpheus killed himself.  After researching Gluck, I learned that he adapted the legend, rejecting the harsh ending in his classical sources and instead conformed with the happy ending expected of the modern stage in his day. As Orpheus is about to kill himself, Amore intervenes, disarms him and rewards him for his love and devotion and Eurydice comes to life again, like she’s just woken up from a deep sleep.

Details: 

There are two remaining performances: Saturday, Nov 25, 7:30 pm and Thurs, Dec 1, 7:30 pm.  Run-time = 81 min, with no intermission.  Tickets: Purchase online: https://www.sfopera.com/operas/orpheus-and-eurydice/

Traffic alert: If you are driving in from the North Bay, allow at least 45 min travel/parking time from the Golden Gate Bridge to War Memorial Opera House. For a list of parking garages closest to the opera house, visit https://sfopera.com/plan-your-visit/directions-and-parking/

November 23, 2022 Posted by | Art, Dance, Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

review: A Thrilling New Production of “La Traviata” at SF Opera

Soprano Pretty Yende in her Company debut as Violetta in Verdi’s “La Traviata.” Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

It’s a story as old as time: man falls for beautiful woman with an unsuitable background; his family disapproves and intervenes; and the aftermath is tragic, especially when the woman dies before wrongs can be righted and a beautiful love is thwarted.  Meddling, lies and bad timing; where would opera be without them?  SFO’s (San Francisco Opera’s) new production of Verdi’s beloved “La Traviata,” has all of that and looks at the woman as a model of feminine strength.  The beloved opera, the most performed in the world, opened Friday night to a full house, delighting the audience with its fresh new staging by director Shawna Lucey, production design by Robert Innes Hopkins and lighting by Michael Clark. It introduced a stellar international cast headed by three stars in their Company debuts in the principal roles of Violetta, Alfredo and Germont. The music under new Music Director Eun Sun Kim was enthralling as was the singing from SFO’s opera chorus. This is a brand new production, the first in 35 years, and it was built by the Company entirely in the Bay Area. It was high time that this beloved classic be given a fresh face, especially in SFO’s centennial year.

Based on Alexandre Dumas’ 1853 play La Dame aux Camélias (Lady of the Camelias), a fictionalized account of Dumas’ affair with famed Parisian courtesan Marie Duplessis who died of tuberculosis at age 23, Verdi’s “La Traviata” (“The Fallen Woman,”) has long been viewed as a cautionary morality tale about the dangers of living outside society’s norms. This Traviata, set in the late 19th century, as envisioned by Shawna Lucey, is a story of self-invention that looks at the courtesan Violetta Valéry, as an empowered feminist, ahead of her time. With steely resolve, Violetta has achieved wealth, fame, social standing.  She leads an independent and sophisticated life on the borders of a high society that denounces and embraces prostitution.  She accepts the price: the long leash that connects her to her rich much older patron, Baron Douphol. As for the emotional toll, she’s long abandoned any hope of true love and has a transactional approach to intimacy.  When young Alfredo Germont professes his total devotion, she is thrown. She allows herself to love and moves to a plush country house with Alfredo for a fresh start, never telling him that she is dying of tuberculosis.  Enter Giorgio Germont, Alfredo’s father, very much the opposite of Violetta, who represents the old-fashioned constricting social norms of the time.  He implores Violetta to break it off with Alfredo, telling her that she will ruin the family’s social standing and deny Alfredo’s sister any chance of a respectable marriage.  Violetta makes the ultimate sacrifice and ends it, becoming a victim of the societal rules she thought she had conquered.  Alfredo is crushed and enraged; he insults Violetta at a party in Paris and then goes away.  When he learns later that it was his own father who masterminded their breakup, he rushes back to find Violetta on her death bed where she dies in his arms.  

Jonathan Tetelman as Alfredo and Pretty Yende as Violetta offer a festive champagne toast as they sing their brindisi in Verdi’s “La Traviata.”
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera
Simone Piazzola as Giorgio Germont and Pretty Yende as Violetta in Act II of Verdi’s “La Traviata.” The pergola of roses surrounding the garden suggests an idyllic Eden, where Violetta and Alfredo lived freely and happily for several months until Germont showed up to demand she break it off with his son. Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

From the moment the curtain opened on Act I, a lively party in Violetta’s Parisian apartment, soprano Pretty Yende, the renowned South African bel canto interpreter, was dazzling. Dressed to the nines in her blue satin party dress, she sashayed across the floor, commanding attention and a sound that demanded to be heard.  Her famous duet with Alfredo, the drinking song “Brindisi, Libiamo ne’ lieti caliche che la bellezza infiora,” was full of fun and energy and had the audience swaying and humming.  Their beautiful duet, “Un di, felice, eterea, mi balenaste innante…” “One happy day you flashed before me…” was full of vocal gymnastics, which Yende seemed to blossom into as the performance went on. Their voices complimented each other’s exquisitely but they failed to demonstrate there was any real sizzle between them. Yende mesmerized the audience with her rapid-fire emotive “Sempre Libera,” (“Forever free”) a long, grueling test of a soprano’s mettle that she finished off with the customary, albeit briefly-held, E flat. 

Yende’s Act II encounter with Germont, Alfredo’s father, a key moment in the opera, was a high point.  Here, she is pressured into breaking up with Alfredo to save the family’s reputation and to allow Germont’s daughter to marry an appropriate suitor. Yende went from projecting strength, confidence and defiance and then dissolved into a shattered and dis-empowered wreck after agreeing to leave Alfredo.  Her brief aria “Amani Alfredo,” “Love me Alfredo, as much as I love you…” where she emotively poured out her soul was astounding.  Her big Act III goodbye to life aria, “Addio, del passato…” “Farewell to the past, beautiful, happy dreams…” was her most convincing singing of the evening. Coming after she receives a letter from Germont telling her that Alfredo knows about her sacrifice and is returning, she sings this tormented aria as a resigned farewell to a future with Alfredo and as an expression of her belief in the eternal power of love.

Jonathan Tetelman as Alfredo in Act II of Verdi’s “La Traviata,” set in courtesan Flora’s Parisian salon. Violetta has just lied to him, telling him that she loves Baron Duphol. He snaps and sings out his agony surrounded by the crowd. Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

When tenor Jonathan Tetelman took the stage as Alfredo, “total package” was my hit—both him and his beautiful voice. I had a similar reaction years ago to Jonas Kaufmann after hearing him sing at the Met. Tetelman, a tall, dashing Chilean-American, conveyed Alfredo’s tender passion, intense rages and crippling remorse with such authenticity that he threatened to steal some of Pretty Yende’s thunder. He sang beautifully in his Act I duet with Violetta, “Un di, felice, eterea, mi balenaste innante,” (“One happy, ethereal day, you flashed before me,”) and was particularly compelling at the beginning of Act II in his “Lunge da lei” and “De’ miei bollenti spiriti’ (‘My passionate spirit’) singing with emotional directness and evoking a warm audience response.  In Act II, when he learns that Violetta has been selling off things to pay for their luxurious lifestyle at the country villa, his “O Mio Remorso! Oh infamia” was painful, heartfelt.  In Act III, when he returns to find Violetta dying, their duets were heart-wrenching.

Simone Piazzola as Giorgio Germont and Jonathan Tetelman as Alfredo in Act II of Verdi’s “La Traviata.” Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Italian baritone Simone Piazzola brought lyricism, intensity and tenderness to his SFO debut as Giorgio Germont.  In the ten years since he was on SFO’s stage as a Merola Fellow, he has become known for his moving portrayals in many of Verdi’s works.  He has a strong stage presence, having sung Germont with high praise over 200 times in some 30 productions around the world.  The role comes with its own set of dramatic challenges which are entwined with the music and convey his evolving perspective on Violetta and Alfredo’s relationship.  He struck a quite believable balance between wanting to preserve his family’s honor at all costs and finding that he really cares for Violetta and has misjudged her. His Act II aria “Pura siccome un angelo”(“Pure as an angel…”) sung to Violetta was heartfelt and passionate, reflecting his love of family and his “Di Provenza il mar il suol” (“The sea and soil of Provence”), sung to remind Alfredo of their home in Provence, was aching.  

In the smaller roles, bass Adam Lau was impressive as Dr. Grenvil and mezzo-soprano Taylor Raven sang beautifully as Flora.

Music Director Eun Sun Kim guided the SF Opera Orchestra masterfully.  The prelude opened on a somber theme foreshadowing Violetta’s illness and tragic death with very delicate, high strings in a sad melody.  The mood changed as the orchestra bounced energetically through Act I’s pleasure-filled Parisian party atmosphere. The rousing drinking song had the people around me humming and swaying in their seats and the intense outpouring of melody supporting Violetta’s “È strano / Ah, fors’è lui / Sempre libera” paralleled the new intense stirrings of love within her heart.  The violins played exquisitely again in the Prelude to Act III expressing tender hope which is overshadowed by despair.  Kim kept the orchestra moving along at a good clip, slowing things later in the opera as the mood shifts and Violetta’s illness and parental interference cast a dark spell. It will be a pleasure to hear her conduct Verdi in coming seasons.

One of the exciting things about a new production is seeing the creative transformation of a familiar scene—Act II’s party scene at Flora’s apartment was hit and miss.  The set was gorgeous, painted in shades of red and intricately designed with stained glass windows and faux tiles evoking Alhambra and a wall of erotic paintings on display in the background. The evening’s entertainment arrives and a raucous party ensues. The female chorus sings “We are Gypsies” and the male chorus “We are the Matadors from Madrid.”  Double-sided costumes—male on one side and female on the other were a hit with the audience. Less convincing was the a nod to the Marquis’ wild sexual proclivities—a male clad in a pink lace tutu who crawled on the floor imitating a dog.  

Pretty Yende as Violetta in Act II of Verdi’s “La Traviata.” Flora’s apartment, executed in shades of red with a gallery of erotic art would have been all the rage in certain circles in late 19th century Paris. Throughout the performance, Yende appears in stunning gowns. Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera
Pretty Yende as Violetta and Taylor Raven as Flora with members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus gathering around Violetta in a touching protective gesture to shield, end of Act II of Verdi’s “La Traviata.” Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

In the end, it was Violetta’s descent into the throws of death, matched by the pathos of her singing that captivated us to her last breath. A complete surprise came when Violetta read Germont’s letter to her aloud in her spoken voice; hearing Yende’s South African accent felt quite intimate.

Details:

Six remaining performances of “La Traviata” are scheduled: Wednesday/16 (7:30 p.m.), Tuesday/22 (7:30 p.m.), Friday/25 (7:30 p.m.), Sunday/27 (2 p.m.), Wednesday/30 (7:30 p.m.); Saturday/December 3 (7:30 p.m.), 2022.  Sung in Italian with English supertitles.  Run-time: 2 hours, 58 minutes with 2 intermissions.  Tickets and information: https://www.sfopera.com/operas/la-traviata/

Saturday, November 7- 10pm: La Traviata Encounter:   Experience the romance, drama and passion of “La Traviata” in a new and unforgettable way. See Act I of Verdi’s La Traviata (approx. 30 minutes) with South African Soprano Pretty Yende as Violetta and Chilean-American tenor Jonathan Tetelman as Alfredo Germont.  Afterwards, enjoy an immersive evening of food, drinks and dancing in the transformed Opera House whose different lobbies will be inspired by scenes in the opera. Food and specially themed specialty cocktails will be available for purchase.  Read ARThound’s coverage here

November 16, 2022 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Welcome to Violetta’s world: SF Opera’s La Traviata Encounter—an evening of opera, drinks & sinful soirees, Saturday, November 19

South African Soprano Pretty Yende as Violetta in SFO’s dazzling new production of Verdi’s “La Traviata.”
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

For one night only, experience the romance, drama and passion of Verdi’s beloved opera, “La Traviata,” in a new and unforgettable way. First, listen to the music as the curtain at War memorial Opera House rises on the lavish salon of Parisian courtesan Violetta Valéry andAct I of Shawna Lucey’s new SFO production is performed in its entirety (approx. 30 minutes) with full orchestra, chorus and principal cast. South African Soprano Pretty Yende is Violetta and dashing Chilean-American tenor, Jonathan Tetelman, is Alfredo Germont singing the famous drinking song, “Libiamo ne’ lieti calici,” as well as their beautiful duet: “Un dì, felice, eterea, mi balenaste innante” (One happy, ethereal day you flashed before me). The SFO chorus will sing “Si ridesta in ciel l’aurora” (The dawn is awakening…). The Act closes with an impassioned display of Violetta’s vocal agility in her impassioned aria, “Sempre libera degg’io trasvolar di gioia in gioia” (It’s strange I shall always be free to fly from adventure to adventure).

Afterwards, the action moves into War Memorial Opera House’s gorgeous lobbies which have hosted opera audiences for decades, that have been transformed for one night only into exclusive party zones offering an immersive evening of food, drinks and dancing. The upper lobbies, recalling Act II, transport you to Violetta’s country Garden of Eden, capturing the feeling of passionate lovers secluded in nature. Interactive activities will round out the essence of heavenly love. The lower levels will tempt you to indulge in the sinful decadence of fellow courtesan Flora’s gambling party, with liquor and treats. It all culminates in a collective tribute to Violetta’s remarkable life with more drinking, dancing, love and lust in a Parisian Day of the Dead celebration for the ages.

Food and Traviata-themed specialty cocktails will be available for purchase, and all lobby experiences run concurrently after Act I until 10 p.m.  Some lobby areas will feature adult content; suggested for guests 21 and older, discretion is advised. Costumes are welcome, but ensure your fabulous look will not impact other guests’ enjoyment of the Act I performance in the theater! 

Details:

Tickets: $39 to $100 except VIP Box-level tickets ($189) which includes an exclusive, complimentary champagne pre-show reception beginning at 6pm, with lobbies opening to all ticket holders at 6:30 pm. Themed drinks and bites will be available for purchase throughout lobbies. The 30 minute performance begins at 7:30 p.m., and lobby experiences will continue until 10 p.m. Tickets and more information can be found at sfopera.com/encounter.

November 15, 2022 Posted by | Dance, Food, Opera | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SFO’s “Dialogues of the Carmelites”―an opera of faith, with inspiring conversations sung to beautiful music―through Sunday, October 30

Acclaimed soprano Heidi Stober in her role debut at SFO as Blanche de la Force, a young noblewoman whose world is growing darker. Outside her Parisian manor walls, revolutionaries want her dead, so she takes refuge in a convent of nuns. Instead of sanctuary, she finds her calling and takes the ultimate stand for faith. SFO’s “Dialogues of the Carmelites” is sung entirely in beautiful French. Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Near the end of Act I in Francis Poulenc’s, “Dialogues of the Carmelites” at SFO (San Francisco Opera), the words of the dying prioress, Madame de Croissy (soprano Michaela Schuster), pierced me.  Delirious with pain and fear, and experiencing a crisis of faith, she cries out “Who am I at this moment, wretched as I am, to concern myself with Him! Let Him first concern himself with me!”  It’s heavy. Once death is knocking at her door, the old nun who has spent her life contemplating death, finds no comfort and instead lashes out at God. When a younger nun, Sister Constance (Soprano Deanna Breiwick) in conversation with the heroine, Blanche, later questions why a God-fearing nun like Madame de Croissy had to die such an agonizing death, she hints that perhaps the prioress didn’t die for herself but for someone else who would be surprised to find unexpected serenity when facing her own death. Conversations like this about our deep beliefs, examining God’s absence. and the very path of our souls make Poulec’s 1957 opera thought-provoking and timeless. Add his hauntingly poetic music, performed by SF Opera’s Orchestra under Music Director Eun Sun Kim, and singing by top talent and it all combines for an unforgettable experience. Running at two hours and fifty minutes, the new higher and immensely comfortable seating at War Memorial Opera House makes this an even more pleasurable experience. “Dialogues…” is at SF Opera through October 30 and can be live-streamed. This review pertains to Friday, October 21 performance.

Heidi Stober as Blanche de la Force and Michaela Schuster as Madame de Croissy in Poulenc’s “Dialogues of the Carmelites.” Stunning lighting by Bertrand Kelly, shines through angular openings in the walls, casting characters in dramatic light and defining space, complimenting Olivier Py and Daniel Izzo’s minimalist monochrome staging. Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

As SFO celebrates its centennial year and musical landmarks in its rich history, it honors the company’s US premiere of “Dialogues of the Carmelites” in 1957 with a new co-production by Théâtre des Champs-Elysées and Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, Bruxelles, conceived by Olivier Py with production design by Pierre-André Weitz and revival staging by Daniel Izzo. SFO’s 1957 premiere was especially noted for Soprano Leontyne Price’s stunning Lidoine–her first role with a major American opera company.  Poulenc wrote his opera in French and his libretto was after the text from a play by Georges Bernanos. The opera’s 1957 SFO premiere and subsequent SFO presentations in 1963 and 1982 used an English translation of the French libretto. SFO’s 2022 performances are the first to be sung in beautiful French using Poulenc’s original text.  

Set in 1789-1794 France, Poulenc’s “Dialogues” is based on the true story of the Martyrs of Compiègne, a community of sixteen Carmelite nuns who were guillotined during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror for refusing to denounce their faith. The opera balances this terrible episode in French history with the inner spiritual journey of the fictional Blanche de la Force, a neurotic young woman from an aristocratic Parisian family whose fear of the oncoming Revolution drives her to seek refuge in the Carmelite order. Once in the convent in Compiègne, she encounters women who are deeply committed to their vocation and who have the strength of character she lacks.

Michaela Schuster as Madame de Croissy and Heidi Stober as Blanche de la Force in Poulenc’s “Dialogues of the Carmelites.”

Four women influence Blanche in very different ways and, along with Stober, are the opera’s key singers: the old prioress Mme. de Croissy, the sweet and lovable Sister Constance, the fervent assistant prioress Mother Marie, and the endearing Mme. Lidoine who becomes prioress after Croissy’s death. Despite that these characters are all sopranos, all dressed similarly, it was easy to distinguish their voices.

The opera begins and ends with Blanche de la Force and, once again, Heidi Stober wowed the audience with her stunning voice and mastery of the myriad of shifting emotions in this complex character. Stober made her first SFO appearances in fall 2010 as Sophie in “Werther” and as Susanna in “Le Nozze di Figaro.” She went on to mesmerize audiences with her spectacular glittering range as Pamina in Jun Kaneko’s “The Magic Flute,” and on to Kitty Hawks in “Show Boat” and Norina in “Don Pasquale” and many other roles. Singing flighty Blanche, in her role debut, required Stober to summon her darker tormented side, which she did in spades on Friday from her appearance in Act I as neurotic and fear-ridden to her Act II heartbreaking duet with her brother, the Chevalier de la Force (Ben Bliss) when she asserts her wish to stay and to die, if need be. Her remarkable transformation to a place of deep trusting faith, acceptance of death and sacrifice in Act III was masterful.

In her SFO debut, German soprano Michaela Schuster with her powerful turbulent sound was glorious in her death scene as the fear-ridden, almost blasphemous Mme. de Croissy. Deanna Breiwck as Constance, the youngest of the nuns and Blanche’s contemporary and comrade, sung her role with bright energy. She unnerved Blanche by expressing her hope to die young and in her eerie prediction that she and Blanche would die on the same day. Former Merola and Adler Fellow Melody Moore as assistant prioress, Mother Marie, has such a recognizable voice and masterful emotional affect that even in this small role she was memorable as she longed so deeply for martyrdom with her spiritual wards but was denied it. As the Reign of Terror approaches and the nuns are arrested, Michelle Bradley as new prioress, Mme. Lidoine was particularly compassionate in reminding the sisters that one does not choose to be a martyr; God chooses. She was enthralling in guiding the sisters in their vow of martyrdom. At the last moment, in the opera’s brilliantly staged final act, as the nuns are guillotined one by one, Blanche has come out of hiding. She summons her courage and steps out from the crowd to follow Sister Constance to the guillotine.

Deanna Breiwick as Sister Constance and Heidi Stober as Blanche de la Force in Poulenc’s “Dialogues of the Carmelites.” Closest to Blanche in age, fun-loving Constance quickly befriends Blanche but Blanche is unnerved when Constance expresses that she hopes to die young and then predicts that she and Blanche will die on the same day. Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera
Full of Christian references, from crosses to breathtaking mystical scenes enacted by the nuns, such as the birth of Christ using simple flat wooden cut outs against a backdrop of glowing light and the stark woods of Northern France, Py’s staging references the sacred. Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera
Efraín Solís as the Jailor (left) with the imprisoned Carmelite nuns about to be executed. Lighting designer Bertrand Killy paints brilliantly with light and shadow, defining space and giving form to the emotional experiences of the characters. Olivier Py’sand Daniel Izzo’s quiet monochrome set design, features sliding walls in strong geometrics. Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

“Dialogues” doesn’t have traditional arias; rather it’s a series of beautifully sung, mostly brief conversations in arioso style singing which adapts speech-like patterns. In Act III’s dramatic conclusion, condemned to death, the Carmelites proceed barefoot hand in hand to an unseen guillotine, chanting the Marian prayer hymn “Salve Regina” (“Hail holy Queen”) against the backdrop of a clear starry night. Their voices grow quieter as the fourteen sisters, one by one, are silenced by the guillotine, until at the end, only Sister Constance can be heard. Just as she is about to be silenced, she sees Blanche stepping forward, and dies knowing that her friend has decided to rejoin her fellow sisters in martyrdom. Instead of continuing on with the “Salve Regina,” Blanche sings the four last lines of another beautiful prayer, the “Veni Creator Spiritus” (“Come Holy Spirit”), a text usually sung during the ordination of priests and at holy confirmation. Poulenc chose this prayer because it is associated with the absolute dedication of one’s life to God. Stober’s singing and acting was piercingly beautiful in these final moments, projecting inner calm and acceptance as she rejoins the Carmelites for eternity. They have all sacrificed their lives in peaceful resignation.

The finale of Poulenc’s “Dialogues of the Carmelites.” Olivier Py and Daniel Izzo arranged the sisters, all in white garb, in a semi-circle, holding hands singing “Salve Regina”, against the backdrop of a clear starry night. One by one, as the sound of the guillotine sound interrupted the hymn, one of the sisters put her head down and walked to the back and disappeared into the sky. Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The momentous simplicity of Olivier Py‘s and Daniel Izzo’s staging and designer Pierre-André Weitz’s sets strikes a balance between visual innuendo and the profound spiritual message of the dialogues.  Executed in dark shades of gray and relying on shifting of simple geometric forms—squares and crosses—and their interplay with streams of light; the sparse sets reinforce the sense of fear, of darkness closing in and snuffing out life as the French Revolution approaches.  In Act I, the library in the Marquis de la Force’s chateau is suggested by black wood paneling with a single elegant chandelier. Blanche’s passage into her religious life is reinforced by the four walls of the de la Force chateau cleverly retracting so that she actually walks through an opening in the shape of a cross bathed in light. Also notable is the staging of Prioress Mme. de Croissy’s death marking the end of Act I.  Her bed is affixed to the infirmary’s wall, so she’s vertical and the audience can fully take in her tormented tumultuous passing, with her arms flailing and outstretched, sometimes forming a cross.

Music Director Eun Sun Kim, conducting the opera for the first time led the orchestra in a beautiful and vibrant reading of Poulenc’s score, stressing the tonality of the score as well as its passages of plush lyricism.

Since this opera has such an intense psychological dimension, if you do go, your best experience will be had sitting close to the stage where you can see the singers’ expressions.

Details:

There are two remaining performances of “Dialogues of the Carmelites”: Wed, 10/26 at 7:30 pm; Sun, 10/30 at 2 pm. Run Time: 2 hours and 50 min, with one intermission following Act I. Tickets: Purchase online: https://www.sfopera.com/operas/dialogues-of-the-carmelites/ .

Traffic alert: If you are driving in from the North Bay, allow at least 45 min travel/parking time from the Golden Gate Bridge to War Memorial Opera House. For a list of parking garages closest to the opera house, visit https://sfopera.com/plan-your-visit/directions-and-parking/

October 25, 2022 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The 65th SFFILM Festival is April 21-May 1: the program is online now and non-member tickets go on sale April 1

In celebration of the centennial anniversaries of SF Opera and the Castro Theatre, the 65th SFFILM Festival will offer a free community screening of John Else’s new documentary, “Land of Gold” (2021), that brings to life John Adams’ opera, “Girls of the Golden West,” which premiered at SFOpera in 2017, with libretto by Peter Sellars.  The revisionist opera is set in the days of the California Gold Rush, reworking poetic fantasies of striking it rich in the land of gold.  The documentary features the mesmerizing soprano Julia Bullock, along with John Adams, Paul Appleby, and the Kai brothers.  The free screening will be preceded by a performance by SFO’s Adler Fellows, an elite multi-year residency for opera’s most promising young artists.  Director John Else in attendance. Adler performance is Thursday, April 28, at 7:30 pm at the Castro; film screens at 7:45p.m.  Reserve free tickets now for SFFILM members and April 1 for general public.  Image: SFFILM

The legendary actress, Michelle Yeoh—star of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” “Supercop,” “Tomorrow Never Dies,” “The Lady,” “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” and many other films—will receive a special SFFILM tribute, hosted by Sandra Oh on Friday, April 29th, 6:00 pm CastroIn conjunction with the tribute, SFFILM is screening Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000), Monday April 25, 7pm, at the Castro.   Who can forget the thrilling martial arts battles between nimble warriors Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun-Fat as they battled Ziyi Zhang to recover a powerful 400 year old sword, literally flying across the red-tiled roofs of their ancestral Chinese village.  Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Picture, it won four Oscars, including Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Score. Those who purchase a ticket to the film will receive a discount on the tribute.  Image: Thomas Laisne/Getty Images, Courtesy SFFILM)
 

The 65th SFFILM festival: 130 films (58 features, 5 mid-length films and 67 shorts), 56 countries, 16 world premieres. Fifty-six percent of the films are directed by female or non-binary filmmakers and 52 percent directed by BIPOC filmmakers.  Screenings will take place at venues across the Bay Area, including the Castro Theatre, Roxie Cinema, Victoria Theatre, Vogue Theatre, and UC Berkeley’s BAMPFA.

Full schedule, tickets for the 65th SFFILM Festival: https://sffilm.org/

SFFILM member tickets on sale now; non-member tickets on sale, Friday, April 1, 10 a.m.

March 30, 2022 Posted by | Film, Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: San Francisco Opera’s “Hansel and Gretel”—happily ever after, with adult moments

San Francisco Opera’s new co-production with London’s Royal Opera of Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” features Heidi Stober (L) as Gretel and Sasha Cooke (R) as Hansel. Photo: Cory Weaver/ SFO

San Francisco Opera (SFO) has officially kicked off the holiday season with it’s wonderfully staged new co-production of German composer Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel.”  This family-friendly English-language adaptation of the Grimm Brothers’ classic tale follows an impoverished brother and sister who get lost in dense woods and come upon an enticing edible house owned by a witch who lures children in and then roasts and eats them.

Beautiful singing from beloved mezzo Heidi Stober (Gretel), soprano Sasha Cooke (Hansel) and talented supporting singers, along with plush romantic-era music from the San Francisco Opera Orchestra under conductor Christopher Franklin are all pure delight.  With Ian Robertson directing the members of the SF Opera Chorus and a special children’s chorus comprised of members of the San Francisco Girls Chorus and San Francisco Boys Chorus, the experience is both sophisticated and magical.  Running just two hours and 12 minutes, the shortish opera is perfect for families.

Act I of Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” features mezzo soprano Michaela Martens as Gertrude, the mother (L), and bass-baritone Alfred Walker as Peter, the father (R). Photo: Cory Weaver/ SFO

What’s unique about this co-production with London’s Royal Opera House by British director and production designer Antony McDonald, is that the original Brothers Grimm story, published in 1812 in Children’s and Household Tales, has been changed significantly.  Librettist Adelheid Wette, Humperidinck’s sister, wrote her version of Hansel and Gretel in 1983 to appeal to German opera audiences while addressing pressing issues of the day—child labor, callus treatment of children, education and gender roles in the household.  In Act I, Hansel and Gretel work right beside their parents, with little time for childhood frivolity.  In the original Grimms’ tale, the father and stepmother are painted as awful characters who deliberately abandon their children.  Wette turned the stepmother into the actual mother, and she doesn’t die in the end.  Instead of being a woodcutter, the father is a broom-maker, a critique of patriarchal authority.

Antony McDonald has further softened many of harsh aspects of the original tale and added new characters.  The father is not portrayed as a drunk; when the mother sends the children into the forest to forage for strawberries and they do not return home; both parents go to look for them.  Even when they are lost and frightened, the children distract themselves with play.

Act II’s “Dream-Pantomime” scene in SFO’s new co-production of “Hansel and Gretel” includes characters from other Brothers Grimm fairy tales. Photo: Cory Weaver

The addition of new characters may come as a  surprise.  In Act II, a delightful Sandman (mezzo Ashley Dixon, Adler Fellow) appears to lull the lost children to sleep.  As the children say their evening prayers and begin to fall asleep, instead of being attended to by angels, several characters from the other Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales make cameo appearances, including Little Red Riding Hood (Sarah Nadreau), the Wolf (Sarah Yune), Prince Charming (Michael Bragg), Snow White (Stacey Chien), Rapunzel (Nina Rocco), Rumpelstiltskin (Kay Thornton), Will-o’-the-wisp (Chiharu Shibata).  As the opera’s final act begins, Hansel and Gretel are awoken at dawn by a Dew Fairy (soprano, Natalie Image, Adler Fellow) who sprinkles them with glistening drops from her water can.

Depending on your preference for adhering to the authentic story, these additions will either delight or annoy you.  Compared to the computer-generated creatures that dominate the screens and kids’ attention nowadays, these furry animals and real human characters add quaint charm.  Antony McDonald is a Royal Designer for Industry, a title he was awarded in the UK honoring his decades of experience designing and directing imaginative productions for opera, theater, and ballet.  Recognizing that “Hansel and Gretel” may be a young child’s first experience of opera, he stated he wanted it to be “visually arresting and engaging, creating a balance of fear and delight.”  He has succeeded.

Robert Brubaker as the witch and Heidi Stober as Gretel in Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” at SFO. Photo: Cory Weaver/SFO

Still, the opera goes to some very dark places.  With all we know about child molesters who pretend to be something they are not to prey upon innocent children, the gender-changing witch (tenor Robert Brubaker) takes on terrifying connotations.  On the other hand, the addition is relevant and timely.

Sasha Cooke as Hansel in Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel.” Photo: Cory Weaver/ SFO

This performance reunites powerhouses Cooke and Stober who wowed SFO audiences in June when they co-stared in Handel’s baroque masterpiece, Orlando. (https://genevaanderson.wordpress.com/2019/06/21/meet-richard-savino-whose-baroque-instruments-add-period-splendor-to-handels-orlando-at-sf-opera-through-june-27/ )

Mezzo Sasha Cooke was fabulous and abuzz with youthful energy in the pants role of Hansel.  She had a huge stage presence and sang a number of duets where her warm voice sparkled.  She harmonized wonderfully with soprano Heidi Stober who delivered an energetic and delightful Gretel and dazzled in her demanding soli and duets.

Heidi Stober as Gretel in Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel.” Photo: Cory Weaver/SFO

Just before last Sunday’s opera began, SFO General director Matthew Shivlock took the stage to announce that mezzo Michaela Martens, cast as Gertrude, the mother, was ill and that first year Adler Fellow, mezzo Mary Evelyn Hangley, would replace her.  Hangley took the ball and ran with it, singing the role with confidence in her surprise SFO debut.  These unexpected moments make live opera so exciting.

Bass baritone Alfred Walker as Peter, the father, delivered powerful singing and brought requisite intensity to the role, especially when celebrating the boom in broom sales that put food on his impoverished family’s table.  Tenor Robert Brubaker was wonderful as the frightening witch who ultimately is pushed into the oven and roasted.  More sensitive young viewers may react to seeing the witch corpse in Act III.

The opera’s sets masterfully recreate beloved landscapes from storybooks, from the initial show scrim—a blown-up photo of a romantic valley scene, to the quaint cabin kitchen scene, to the ominous wood forest—to the witch’s creepy chocolate house with a huge knife across the roof and a cherry on top.

In Act I and throughout the opera, a large cuckoo clock atop the proscenium has motorized hands which spin round to mark the passage of time.  The actual sound of the cuckoo comes from behind the orchestra pit and is preformed by percussionist Victor Avdienko, playing his custom-made flute-like instrument,“L”Cuckoo,” made out two PVC pipes.  In Act II, a large automated moth and beetle move slowly around the proscenium seemingly encircling the exquisitely shadowed forest, lit by Lucy Carter.

Act III of Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” with Heidi Stober as Gretel and Sasha Cooke as Hansel features a witch’s house inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller Psycho.  Photo: Cory Weaver/ SFO

In Act III, the banister of the witch’s house that Gretel breaks off is made on the morning of each performance from dark chocolate that is cast in a mold and baked.  The finished piece is dry brushed with white chocolate to resemble wood.  The house itself was inspired by Hitchcock’s Psycho.

In all, “Hansel and Gretel” is very satisfying due to its high entertainment factor and family friendly vibe.  If you do attend, come early to watch the mayhem.  There is something wonderfully energizing about seeing the opera house full of happy children scurrying around in a scavenger hunt.

Family Activities:

Gingerbread Hunts: Children with performance tickets are invited to participate in a gingerbread scavenger hunt that starts in the Opera House lobby before every performance.

Character Meet and Greets: Following the performances on Saturday, Nov. 30 and Sunday, Dec. 1, audience members can meet fairy tale characters in the Opera House lobby.

Exploration workshops for families: “All About Hansel and Gretel” workshops, perfect for children ages 6 and above, explore the opera’s story, music, production design and characters. Saturday, Nov. 30 at 11 am and 12:30 pm at the Wilsey Center for Opera, Veterans Building, 4th floor, 401 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco. Tickets: $10 per person. Purchase online here.

Details:

There are five remaining performances of Hansel and Gretel—Sat, Nov. 23, 7:30 pm; Sat, Nov 30, 2 pm; Sunday, Dec 1, 2 pm; Tues, Dec 3, 7:30 pm; and Sat, Dec 7, 7:30 pm. War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco. Tickets: $26 to $398. Admission for children under 18 is available at 50% off with the purchase of one or more adult tickets in certain sections. Info: (415) 864-3330 or www.sfopera.com

November 22, 2019 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

review: Romeo and Juliet, the rush of new love with a short shelf life, at SF Opera

Charismatic tenor Pene Pati/Romeo is believably engulfed in the passion of true love in San Francisco Opera’s new production of Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet,”  last performed at SFO 32 years ago.  Photo: Cory Weaver/SFO

No matter how familiar the plot, most of us are suckers for a passionate love story; there’s none more enthralling than Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”  As a live performance, though, it only clicks when the onstage chemistry is so electric that you find yourself seduced and falling in love with love.   San Francisco Opera’s 97th season opener, “Romeo and Juliet,Charles Gounod’s musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic sucks you in hook, line, and sinker.  The intense longing, desire, and attraction of new love come alive again briefly for Romeo and Juliet, until it all tragically unravels.

The production clicks on so many levelsthe gorgeous singing of leads Nadine Sierra and Pene Pati, their supporting cast, and the SFO Chorus; guest conductor Yves Abel’s and SFO Orchestra’s fluid interpretation of Gounod’s lyrical score.  And a last minute twist that provided the thrilling suspense that makes opera, well, operatic.

Pene Pati and Nadine Sierra disappear into their characters and feed off of each other in four impassioned and lyrical duets that anchor Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet.”  Photo: Cory Weaver/SFO

Just three days before the season’s opening gala performance on Sept 6, Romeo, tenor Bryan Hymel, withdrew from the entire production citing personal reasons.  New Zealand tenor Pene Pati, stepped up to sing the entire run.  Pati, a former Adler, who sang the Duke of Mantua in Verdi’s “Rigloetto” in 2017, was already booked to sing Romeo in the last of the opera’s seven scheduled performances.  His debut under pressure was splendid.  In his second performance as Romeo, on Sept 13, Patis charisma was palpable, magical.  He sang with such lyricism, passion and seemingly effortless precision that, even in the most challenging arias, he came off like a Ferrari that had just given everyone in attendance the ride of their life.  The love-at-first-sight scene with Julia at the Capulet ball, was something to behold as soprano Nadine Sierra, in her role debut, first encountered her Romeo.  For anyone living the daily grind of a romantic relationship, the interaction between these two was food for the soul.

Pati may be new to the role at SFO but he’s had years to reflect on it.  In 2014, he beat out a remarkable 304 singers to win the Montserrat Caballé International Singing Competition in Zaragosa with his interpretation of the Romeo’s Act II taxing ariaAh, lève-toi, soleil.”  Last Friday, the tenor imbued the seven minute aria with such emotion, and then ended on what seemed like an impossibly-long extended note, that the audience was enraptured.

Soprano Nadine Sierra as Juliet. Photo: Cory Weaver/SFO

As Juliet, Nadine Sierra gave a sublime performance that was at times joyfully playful and, by turns, tender, passionate and heart-wrenching, always convincing and never over the top.  Her Act I “Je veux vivre dans le rêve” (Juliet’s Waltz), where she expresses the desire to live inside her cozy dreamworld, where it is eternally spring, was radiant, light, and showcased her exceptional range.

Following in the steps of Ruth Ann Swenson, 32 years ago, Sierra is now the second artist in SFO history to sing Act IV’s notoriously daunting potion aria, “Amour ranime courage,” which contains two high C’s and and relentless vocal gymnastics.  Those of us lucky enough to have followed Sierra’s rise through the ranks of the Merola and Adler programs will never forget how she beamed after slaying this wicked aria in 2012 for the Adler “The Future is Now” concert.  Last Friday, she was in complete control of the aria from start to finish, delivering an astonishing array of glittering sound while enacting a roller-coaster of emotion that ends with her drinking the potion that will feign her death.

Mezzo soprano Stephanie Lauricella as in her SFO debut as Stéphano, Romeo’s male page. Photo: Cory Weaver

Among secondary roles, mezzo Stephanie Lauricella distinguished herself in her SFO debut as Stéphano, Romeo’s male page.  Following her magical Act III aria, “Que fais-tu, blanche tourterelle?,” several in the audience rose to their feet.  Baritone Lucas Meachem, another former Adler, impressed as Mercutio, Romeo’s friend from his first solo aria in Act I, “Mab, la reine des mensonges”.

Canadian conductor Yves Abel’s sensitive command over the SFO orchestra grew more impressive as the evening progressed.  While hailed as Gounod’s most impressive opera, the score’s prelude and first act did not impress and the first 30 or so minutes were carried by the singing.

Dull staging is the thing that most often drags SFO operas down, contributing a stolid feel to productions that soar in other regards. Jean-Louis Grinda’s staging and Eric Chevalier’s Renaissance-era Verona set designs, a collaboration between Opéra de Monte-Carlo and Teatro Carlo Felice, were uninspired.  Much of the action took place on an unattractive round starburst patterned concave platform that was surrounded by architectural details varying over the course of the opera.  The audience was made to wait out several long scene changes which broke up the continuity of the drama and, when the curtain rose, nothing of high visual interest awaited.

Carola Volles’ costumes were hit and miss. Those of plush jewel-toned velvet added sumptuousness and vibrancy to the dull set, particularly in the masked ball, but gowns with more color and pizazz would have better showcased Juliet.

In the end, Pati and Sierra claimed the night…unstoppable in love and death.

Details: There are four remaining performances of Romeo and Juliet: Sat, 9/21 at 7:30 pm; Tues, 9/24 at 7:30 pm; Sun, 9/29 at 2 pm and Tues 10/1 at 7:30 pm. Run Time: 2 hours and 56 min, with one intermission. Tickets: Remaining performances are selling out; purchase online  https://sfopera.com/2019-20-season/romeo-juliet/

Traffic alert: If you are driving in from the North Bay, allow at least 45 min travel/parking time from the Golden Gate Bridge to War Memorial Opera House. For a list of parking garages closest to the opera house, visit https://sfopera.com/plan-your-visit/directions-and-parking/

 

September 21, 2019 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Meet Drogen, the unflappable equine star of SF Opera’s “Carmen”—he’s from Penngrove and is a rare Gyspy Vanner

Drogen, a 13 year-old Gypsy Vanner gelding owned by Eugene Power, of Novato, and boarded at Caryn and Howard Hoeflein’s Sky High Ranch in Penngrove.  Drogen steals the show in Carmen, which opened SF Opera’s summer season on June 5 and runs through June 29.  Photo: Hannah Beebe

There’s nothing like an extra-large, adorable animal on stage to get an audience oohing and ahhing and that’s exactly how Drogen, a 13-year-old horse from Penngrove, has become the most talked about star of SF Opera’s Carmen.  Of course, the singers are wonderful and Bizet’s familiar music is as enthralling as ever but the chatter has been all about the bullfighter Escamillo’s horse, which bass baritone Kyle Ketelsen rides on stage for his rousing Act II Toreador aria, “Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre.”  Drogen makes another brief appearance in Act IV, the final moments of the opera, when he dramatically carries in the heroine Carmen, soprano J’Nai Bridges, and she dismounts into Escamillo’s arms.

I was delighted to learn that Drogen is stabled in Penngrove, at Sky High Ranch, just a few miles from my country home.  His handler, Caryn Hoeflein of Sky High Ranch, appears on stage as an extra in the opera and works with Drogen to ensure all goes as planned for his two stage appearances.

Drogen is a 13-year old Gypsy Vanner—a rare and gorgeous breed of draft horse first bred in Europe to pull Romani (gypsy) caravans in the UK, and introduced into the US by an enamored Florida couple, Dennis and Cindy Thompson, in 1996.  Gypsy Vanners are captivating in motion because of their flowing feathers, the thick, long silky hair that starts at roughly the cannon bone of the leg and grows down and completely around the hoof.  Gypsy Vanners have always been bred for temperament too, as they needed to be able to pull heavy wagons and work with a family.  At nearly 16 hands high, Drogen is a very big boy in terms of the breed standard.

Drogen’s current owner, Eugene Power, of Novato, bought him as a private trail horse in the wake of the deadly fires last November in Paradise, CA.  Drogen had spent ten years as the loving trail horse of a family that lost everything in the fires except their three horses.  Exhausted and devastated by their loss, the owner and her daughter sold Drogen so that he could have the home and stability they could no longer provide.  Caryn Hoeflein remembers the happy day last November when Drogen arrived at Sky High Ranch, “He became a part of our family too.”  Hoeflein, who has ridden since she was a young girl, has encountered many rare horse breeds but Drogen is the first Gypsy Vanner she’s worked with.

Handsome and then some…Drogen. Photo: Hannah Beebe

When Hoeflein was first approached by Gary Sello of Indian Valley Carriage Company in Novato about providing a horse for SFO’s summer production of Carmen, her initial reaction was no. “I kind of laughed and thought no way. Generally, you don’t bring a horse into a building like that, through an elevator and up on stage with people singing, an orchestra, and a crowd…what goes through your head is everything that could go wrong.”  Hoeflein mulled it over with Drogen’s owner, factoring in Drogen’s recent experience at Petaluma’s Butter & Egg Days Parade—a big, long, noisy parade with loudspeakers, kids, balloons and general chaos.  “He really handled that very well, so I thought we’d give this a try.  I’m really glad we did.  It has been an absolute blast and everyone at the opera house has been bent over backwards to address my concerns and to make sure that Drogen is comfortable and happy.”

Before Drogen’s first visit to the opera house, Hoeflein had him fit with equine sneakers—think Sketchers…wide thick comfortable rubber shoes—so he wouldn’t slip on the painted plywood stage.  Also, all the areas he walks on within the opera house were carpeted, which helps muffle the noise of him walking around backstage and helps with his sense of secure footing.  His route was also outlined in white tape to ensure that, in low light, Hoeflein could find her way through the house.

 

Drogen’s handler Caryn Hoeflein, Sky High Ranch, Penngrove, makes two appearances with Drogen in Carmen.  She’s a second-degree black belt in Taekwondo but uses a gentle approach with all the horses she works with.  Prior to Carmen, Hoeflein had never attended an opera.  Her husband and two boys, ages 10 and 13, attended both the final dress rehearsal and last Thursday’s performance and came away proud and loving opera.  Photo: Caryn Hoeflein

 

Just like any other SF Opera artist, Drogen has an SFO ID badge and, when he enters the opera house; he stops for a security check.  Photo: Caryn Hoeflein

 

Drogen wears equine sneakers. Photo: Caryn Hoeflein

 

Drogen’s view of the house, sans audience, from the SFO stage. Photo: Caryn Hoeflein

Drogen’s introduction to the stage was a gradual build-up over several visits.  At first, he went in and out of the opera house entrance.   Then, he ventured further into the house, which entails going through another set of doors after the security desk and walking through a freight elevator to get backstage.  Then, he was led onto the stage to get a good look around.  He got used to the large crowd on stage and then they sang.  Then, Escamillo mounted Drogen in the backstage area and Hoeflein led them both on stage for his aria, which is what really melts hearts in the audience.  They were three or four practice runs in before they added the full orchestra, which turned out to be a non-issue for sweet Drogen.  He seemed to find Bizet’s music soothing.  Nonetheless, Drogen wears foam earplugs for every performance, which helps muffle the music and cheering.  For the scene with Carmen, they did the same gradual build up with J’Nai Bridges.

Neither Kyle Ketelsen nor J’Nai Bridges had ridden much before and came up to Sky High Ranch to meet Drogen before the first performance.  It was one of those unexpectedly stormy days we had this spring, so all the rehearsing, including Kyle singing, was done inside the barn.  You can see that here.

Since most of Drogen’s performances are in the evenings, Caryn gives him a bath around 1 pm, shampooing his whole body, washing and conditioning his mane and tail and paying special attention to his feathers, which are “dirt magnets.”  He is served a hearty lunch (a pelleted complete stable mix, which helps him keep his weight up) and eats al fresco, air drying in the sun.  Hoeflein braids his mane and tail so that they are lush and wavy for his performance.  For the ride down to SF, he wears a lightweight equine cotton sheet.  They pack up and leave about 2.5 hours before the performance and their first entrance is about an hour into the show.

“I save his dinner (hay) for after we arrive so he has something to do while waiting,” says Hoeflein, who parks on the sidewalk of the opera house near the lawn area.  She takes him out of the trailer upon arrival, gets him ready, and then loads him back in the trailer until about 10 min before he makes his stage appearance.  “I leave him in the trailer while I go inside and get my chaps on.  He’s very comfortable in his trailer and this keeps the crowd away.  Everyone wants a photo and that can cause some anxiety.”

Caryn Hoeflein leads Drogen and Escamillo (bass baritone Kyle Ketelsen) on stage for Carmen’s Act II Toreador aria.  Surrounded by a singing crowd, Drogen is every bit the pro.  Photo: Cory Weaver

 

Drogen returns in Act IV.  Hoeflein mounts in the parking lot, rides through several sets of doors and backstage and then moves Drogen over to a large set of stairs.  J’Nai Bridges (Carmen) mounts bareback, sidesaddle style (with both legs on one side), and sits right behind Hoeflein.  They have about 2 min before the signal to get on stage.  Hoeflein rides Bridges out to front of the stage.  While the chorus is singing, Bridges extends her arms and Escamillo helps her off Drogen.  Hoeflein rides to an area in the back of the stage and waits for about 30 seconds while they do their scene and then rides Drogen backstage and they exit the opera house. Photo: Caryn Hoeflein

 

Drogen’s original owner attended last Friday’s performance, their first reunion since his sale.  She loved the performance and Drogen received a special surprise—jolly rancher candies.  “Putting him up for sale was so hard for her,” said Hoeflein, “but she is very happy that he has a wonderful home now and she feels she made the right choice.”

Prior to his appearances at SF Opera, Drogen led a quiet life.  In fact, as a trail horse, all he had ever been asked to do was walk and trot; he rarely cantered.  If there were ever an inspirational story about life as a senior, it’s his—Drogen has embraced life in the fast lane and the attention lavished on him on the SFO stage.

Details: There are 3 remaining performances of Carmen at SF Opera:  Sun, 6/23 (2 pm); Wed, 6/26 (7:30 pm) and Sat, 6/29 (7:30 pm).  Run time is 2 hours and 47 min.  Tickets:  www.sfopera.com, by phone at (415) 864-3330, or in person at the San Francisco Opera Box Office, 301 Van Ness Ave.  Tickets are extremely limited and most performances are sold out.

Sky High Ranch’s Facebook page: click here.

 

June 22, 2019 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Meet Richard Savino, whose baroque instruments add period splendor to Handel’s “Orlando,” at SF Opera through June 27

Grammy-nominated guitarist/lutenist Richard Savino who makes a special appearance with the SFO Orchestra for Handel’s Orlando at SFO.  Photo: Geneva Anderson

When Handel’s baroque opera Orlando, opened June 9 at San Francisco Opera, guitarist and lutenist Richard Savino was the most sought after musician in the pit.  The grammy-nominated musician, making a special appearance with SF Opera, is one of the world’s foremost early music instrumentalists. His playing was magnetic and stood out, even among the rich arias in this must-see production. Savino spent much of the intermissions fielding questions from fascinated attendees about his theorbo and baroque guitar.  The theorbo is a guitar-like instrument with a very long neck—as long as six feet—with two sets of strings— a longer set tuned with pegs at the top of the fret board (for the deeper range) and a shorter set tuned by pegs on the sides of the fret board (for the higher range).  Savino also doubles in certain parts of the opera on baroque guitar.  His buoyant playing stands out in most parts of Orlando but is heard most clearly in the recitatives—the dialogue that moves the story forward.  Once you recognize his sound, it’s easy to find.  There is a lot of improvisation for Savino as Handel didn’t orchestrate Orlando but provided just the chord changes.  The musicians of the continuo ensemble—Christopher Moulds (conductor/ harpsichord), Ronny Michael Greenberg (harpsichord), David Kadarach (cello)—work together and improvise much like a jazz rhythm section, deciding together how the music will be voiced.  In person, Savino’s personality is just as energetic and engaging as his playing and his passions run wide.  He has given important works that haven’t been performed in centuries their premiere recordings and has developed a fascinating sideline, providing musical accompaniment to art works held in the world’s most elite collections and putting together programs on early artists and period music.  Savino was eager to talk about his music, Orlando and his numerous projects:

 

How did you come to early music and why? Your bio indicates you dabbled in rock and roll and then jazz fusion first which strikes me as unusual path.

Richard Savino:  For me, it was all very logical.  I love the Beatles and listened to them all the time.  At their core, they were rock and roll as well as pop musicians, but they were also very influenced by all epochs of classical music, including baroque music.  One reason for this is because George Martin, their producer, was a classically trained composer.  They used the harpsichord on a number of their songs and many others fall within the classical/romantic cannon.  In particular, they had a real fascination with music from the baroque era and contemporary music of the ’60s.  Listen to Penny Lane, a Tin Pan Alley kind of pop song that has a piccolo trumpet solo.  This is because Paul McCartney heard a piccolo trumpet player play Bach’s second Brandenburg concerto.  Then, listen to A Day in the Life, with its incredible orchestration.  Both songs are magnificent.

I also played rock when I was in high school and I always sang too.  I won a high school vocal competition in a school of 4,000 students.  A couple of years before me, the person who won that same competition was Pat Benatar.  I was always in choirs, so I knew the Bach cantatas, Handel, so forth.  When I went to the State University at Stony Brook, I began to have a strong interest in classical guitar, and I was lucky enough to have a wonderful teachers, in particular Jerry Willard, Oscar Ghiglia, my dear friend/colleague Eliot Fisk, and harpsichordist Albert Fuller who would have a huge impact on my life.  Interestingly, every classical guitarist studies early music because the canon for our repertoire is so rich.  I was also one of the last group of students to study with Andres Segovia.  Unlike most other instruments, guitarists are required to study early music from the 16th and 17th centuries.  The weirdest part is that I went from being a rock and roll guy to studying classical guitar to playing the theorbo and baroque guitar.  I love the Spanish canon that Segovia brought to our consciousness.

 

Most early music specialists tend to focus on the baroque and early renaissance periods but you are also very engaged with the classical music of the 19th century and play instruments from that period as well.  What accounts for your unusually broad scope?  

Richard Savino:  One could say it’s a lot of ADD.  I love playing music from all epochs and the guitar flourished during the 19th century.  It has quite an extensive solo and chamber repertoire.  The 19th century guitar is very different from the classical guitar.  It’s much smaller, more intimate and is the perfect bridge between the guitars of the 18th century and the modern classical guitars; it’s a transitional instrument.  I just love playing it.  Early in my career, I went out of my way to specialize in late 18th and early 19th century chamber music.  And while I love playing solo pieces, I also realized that the world can only sustain a certain number of solo classical guitarists and I am too much a social an animal.  I really enjoyed playing with other musicians, so I went down that path which led me directly into playing basso continuo and other plucked stringed instruments like the theorbo and baroque guitar, which I play in Orlando at SF Opera.  But I still love playing the 6 string guitar and my first recordings were for the Harmonia Mundi label and featured the complete Boccherini Guitar Quintets, which no one had ever recorded before on instruments from the epoch.  A couple of my other recordings that I’m really proud of are the romantic miniatures titled Bardenklänge by Johann Kaspar Mertz, and my recording of Mauro Giuliani’s Op. 30 Concerto, which, I believe, is the only one of its kind that is performed on period instruments with NO cuts.

 

Can you give an example of a moment in SF Opera’s production of Orlando that you have come to love through experiencing it performed?

Richard Savino:  I can’t actually watch because I’m playing but, during rehearsals, I was constantly standing up to try and see what was going on because I knew it was a contemporary adaptation set in WWII.  In a musical context, I have been very moved by the Act 1 duo between Anjelica and Medoro, “Ritornava al suo bel viso” and Orlando’s “Fammi combattere” at the beginning of the opera, and Orlando’s Act 3 aria, “Gia l’ebro mio ciglio,” which is so beautiful with the two violas that have this gorgeous full cadenza at the end of it.

Handel is a remarkable genius and I’ve played many of his operas with Glimmerglass Opera, Opera Colorado, San Diego Opera, San Francisco Opera, and Santa Fe.  He is the great chameleon of all composers.  When he lived in Italy, he wrote like an Italian; when he lived in England, he composed like a Brit; and when he lived in Germany, he composed like a high German composer.  What is amazing is his ability to set music to different languages.  For example, when he was in Rome, he went to Naples and was asked to write a piece for one of the Spanish viceroys and it’s his only piece that I know of that is in Spanish.  I happened to record it a few years ago with my period ensemble group, El Mundo, on the album The Kingdoms of Castille (2012) which was nominated for a Grammy.  Handel just how to absorb the style, the native musical, as well as spoken language.

 

What is the continuo and what is its function in a baroque opera such as Orlando.  How do you work?? 

Richard Savino:  It came about at the turn of the 17th century and was meant to be a quasi-improvised manner of performing that would respond to the way the singers would sing a particular piece.  It was the consequence of the meetings of the Florentine Camarata, a group of humanists that included Giulio Caccini, Vincenzo Galilei and Jacobo Peri, who got together to emulate Greek oratory and music.  They hypothesized about how it must have entailed spontaneity and improvisation between poets, singers and how it would be accompanied by a lyre.  That was the birth of monody, the initial basis of opera.  Much of these early operas by Monteverdi, Caccini, Peri and Cesti consist of collections of these little monodies which consist of a bassline and harmony that supports a singer, much like the way the rhythm section functions in a jazz combo.  Today, when I’m playing with the continuo, I’m looking at a bassline, and am enhancing that.  The idea is to reflect the affection of the text and to create some sort of dialogue with the singer and reflect their interpretation of what’s going on and that’s a gas.

Richard Savino with his theorbo in the orchestra pit at War Memorial Opera House. The theorbo was an important instrument through the Renaissance and baroque eras. The last historical compositions written with the theorbo in mind appeared about 1750.  Savino plays a modern copy.  His theorbo has a very long neck and two sets of strings which are plucked—a longer set tuned with pegs at the top of the fret board (for the deeper range), and a shorter set tuned by pegs on the sides of the fret board (for the higher range).  Photo: Geneva Anderson

What is so special about the theorbo and the sound it produces?

Richard Savino:  First there’s understanding why the theorbo is different–it’s shaped like a lute, with a larger bowl size, no flat back, and it’s single strung, so you can pluck it harder because when you have double strings you can’t pluck very hard because they will rattle against each other.  Usually, it has 14 strings and quite long strings. The longer the string length, the lower the pitch.  The instrument has a very odd tuning in which the highest pitch string is the third string from the top and has a very strong middle and bass register with quite a few extended base strings which I pluck with my right hand thumb.  Those pop out like a cannon.  Just the other day, someone told me the other day that I was quite audible (a big compliment to a lute player) but I have always focused on projection.  I play loudly and you have to project to fill a really big hall.  The theorbo provides the bass fundamental and, sometimes, I’ll play the bassline or  just part of the bassline with some chords.

 

What is tricky about playing both the theorbo and baroque guitar in Orlando?

Richard Savino:  In this production, I’m playing just about everything—almost every recit and aria; there are just a couple that I don’t play.  In the second half, my hand just begs for a break.  Handel’s orchestra would have had two of me, so someone could take over.  Here, it is constant because the recitative moves so fast.  Some are conducive to the instrument; some would be conducive to the archlute, which looks like a theorbo but is tuned differently and is more conductive to flat keys.  The theorbo is more conducive to keys that are in the sharp side of our harmonic language.  I’m covering both players in one.  Playing continuo really keeps your brain sharp and focused.  You have to keep track of the tunings of the different instruments when you switch instruments and change your fingerings accordingly.  On one instrument, one fingering will produce the A chord and on another it’s the G chord and so on.

 

What is the difference between an original and a copy of a baroque instrument like the theorbo or guitar and what do you play?

Richard Savino:  I play very accurate copies in Orlando and, as far as we can ascertain, it’s the same sound. These are very delicate instruments and most that have survived from the 17th century suffered from some degree of neglect and damage.  I have a couple of very early guitars in my collection but nothing earlier than 1800.  I play copies of instruments that would have been built in the late 17th century and would have been part of a player’s arsenal.  I know private collectors who own some of these originals and I can say that very good copies do sound very close to the originals in their present state.  But every instrument in and of itself sounds a bit different.

 

In Orlando, Richard Savino plays a modern copy of a baroque guitar.  Photo: Geneva Anderson

 

The main difference between the guitar and lute and the way they were played is that the guitar, in its baroque incarnation, was strummed and provided expressive rhythm, dance melodies and dramatic battle scenes.  In SFO’s Orlando, Savino strums as well as plucks his guitar. Photo: Geneva Anderson

 

Orlando marks Christopher Moulds’ (SF Opera conductor/ harpsichord) debut with SF Opera.  What does he bring to the production?

Richard Savino:  What I love about him is that he is an expert on period instruments, very well-educated and an intense worker who is demanding but never insulting.  I’d never worked with him before, but I got to know him a little before the production by exchanging emails.  He was very open and conversant, whereas a good number of conductors can be very removed.  He knows how to talk with and work with the orchestra.  A lot of period instrument conductors will talk down to the orchestra which isn’t fair really because, nowadays, orchestras tend to specialize predominantly in romantic and more contemporary repertoire.  That means a lot of the musicians haven’t touched this music in a very long time.  Chris was really good at communicating his ideas.

 

Vermeer’s “Young Woman Seated at a Virginal,” (1670-72), owned by the Leiden Collection, has so far been lent to the Pushkin, the Hermitage and Louvre Abu Dhabi.  For the descriptive video on the Leiden Collection’s website, Savino selected a sonata by Giovanni Legrenzi performed by his ensemble group, El Mundo on strings, harpsichord and lute.  The music’s mood echoes the sobriety of the painting.  Image: courtesy, The Leiden Collection

I’m interested in all your art and music projects—there’s something magical in bringing together different art forms. Tell me about your collaboration with Thomas S. Kaplan, the billionaire metals investor and founder of the Leiden Collection.  I understand that these artworks are being lent all over the world and the music from this same period, that matches them so well, is getting exposure.  What a beautiful project!

 

Richard Savino:  The Leiden Collection is fabulous; it’s the largest collection of privately owned 17th century Dutch paintings in the world—Rembrandt, Vermeer, Jan Steen, Gerrit Dou.  It was founded in 2003 by Thomas S. Kaplan, an art collector from New York, and his wife Daphne Recanti Kaplan.  He was putting together an online catalogue to accompany the part of his collection that tours and asked me to do the soundtracks which accompany his video discussions of each of the paintings.  I did 25 of these, some of which I recorded in the middle of the night in my bedroom and some were taken from tracks that I had recorded previously.  These can be seen and heard on the Leiden Collection in their video section.

 

Collector Thomas S. Kaplan acquired Rembrandt’s “Bust of a Bearded Old Man” (1633) in 2008 and calls it “the jewel in the crown” of The Leiden Collection.  Rembrandt’s smallest known painting, about the size of a baseball card, and the only privately-owned grisaille by the artist in private hands.  Savino plays an early 18th century prelude by Giovanni Zamboni on the archlute which accompanies a video of the artwork as it is unpacked from its crate and held in Kaplan’s hands for the first time. Photo: courtesy The Leiden Collection

 

How did you go about creating the music for each of these paintings?  Did you have free rein?

Richard Savino:  First of all, when I was called and they described it, I thought it was an eight to nine month long project.  But surprise!  They wanted it in a month, so I had to do it very very fast.  I had just had some minor surgery and didn’t even know if I could hold an instrument, much less meet the deadline.  It was a difficult project too.  They wanted music that was epoch appropriate, no later than the early 18th century, preferably late 17th century, luckily repertoire that I had recorded.  I also needed to record some new material so I set up a studio in my practice room at home and, right after the surgery, I started.  They sent me the script, basic mock-ups and I’d get an idea of the kind of piece I wanted.  It was important that the music conformed to the subject matter and the painting itself and, then, I had to match it to the cadence of the speech and be appropriate for the camera and scene cuts/shifts that were part of the video.  It was very challenging.  I remember being up at 3 a.m. in my studio, recording, and then editing and matching it to the video.

 

You’ve also done projects on Francisco Goya and Artemisia Gentileschi.

Richard Savino:  I’ve done quite a few of these.  In fact, I’m doing a Goya program here in San Francisco next May as part of the Humanities West series, Artistic Responses to Napoleon: Beethoven, Goya and Goethe (May 1-2, 2020).  I’ve prepared a multi-media program, Music in the Time of Goya, with music from Soler, Courselle, Boccherini and Sor that will be performed by my chamber ensemble El Mundo.  Works by Goya will be projected throughout the concert. The program was created for the Aston Magna Festival and Milano Classica.

Humanities West actually came about from a project back East, the Aston Magna Academy of Music, whose founder was Albert Fuller, one of my mentors.  It turned me on to this whole idea of interdisciplinary perspectives and putting music into a sociopolitical context which addressed literature, art, architecture and sociopolitical trends.  I attended as a participant in the 1980’s and 1990’s and was later asked to be a guest artistic director and have done that on several occasions.  Right now, I am preparing a program on Rubens with music from Holland, Italy, England, and Spain by Caccini, Frescobaldi, Marin, Arañes, and others for Aston Magna’s summer music festival this July.  My project on the Art and Life of the painter Artemisia Gentileschi received its debut at Aston Magna which then developed into the 2015 cd, What Artemisia Heard; Music from the Time of Caravaggio & Gentileschi.

 

Savino wondered why the music of Artemisia Gentileschi’s time was not as widely appreciated as the visual arts of the era. He decided to integrate the painting of Artemisia and her contemporaries directly with the music these painters would have heard at the time from composers Uccellini, Kapsberger, Ferrari, Frescobaldi, Mazzocchi, Gagliano, Caccini, Piccinini, Castello, Monteverdi, Corbetta, Falconieri, Rossi, Giramo, and Lanier. This evolved into a 2015 cd performed by Savino’s period instrument ensemble, El Mundo, along with distinguished soloists. Photo: courtesy Sono Luminous.

 

How did you go about selecting the pieces for the cd and evoking Artemesia’s struggle to lead her life as an independent woman?

Richard Savino:  Artemisia Gentileschi, who was born in Rome in 1593, was one of the most impressive persons in the history of western civilization; she also was one of the most talented.  She suffered great pain surrounding her rape by Tassi and the trial that found him guilty, but there were moments of beauty and intimacy too. She was friends with a number of composers, and was very close to the very talented Francesca Caccini, who was at the Medici Court and composed the first published opera by a woman.   For the cd, I matched the music to the different cultural environments Artemisia found herself in after the trial.  She traveled widely and lived as a completely independent person, which is remarkable for a 17th century woman.

“DOMINICUS PEREGRINUS Bononiaensis,” engraving, signed “Fontana F,” (17.7 cm x 24.6 cm).  The cover to Domenico Pellegrini Bolognese’s 1650 book of guitar music.  Of note are the long fingernails.

 

Has art provided you with any interesting insights about music centuries ago?  Like the how musicians held their instruments or their nail length?

Richard Savino:  Absolutely, but you have to be careful with that as, sometimes, it’s an affected gesture and they are posing with their instruments rather than holding it the way they would play it.  With the nails, there’s this whole thing in the period instrument world about whether the “pluckers” played with nails.  I’ve seen numerous paintings by both anonymous and well known artists that do actually depict players with long nails.  An important work is the cover engraving to Domenico Pellegrini’s book of guitar music that was published in 1650.  It shows him with his right hand extended with long fingernails.  In addition to guitar, we know that he also played lute with the ensemble based at San Petronio, the major cathedral in Bologna.  We also know about these kinds of performance “practices” from the tutorials themselves.  I’ve learned that it was dependent on country and climate.  In Italy, they used fingernails because they played outdoors in cathedrals and they had to be louder, same with Spain.  In France and England, where it rained a lot, they played indoors and it was a much more intimate space and they played without for the most part.  With nails, you can project more, which some find less refined, more aggressive and in your face.

 

You mentioned that you studied with Segovia? What was that like? A memorable moment?

Richard Savino:  I played at the Metropolitan Museum for him and he actually yanked the guitar out of my hand and said ‘You should never play this piece again.’  Because this was filmed by PBS and shown on CBS Sunday morning, it gave me a degree of notoriety.  At  that stage of my life, all publicity, was good publicity.  To be fair, it was a piece he didn’t like and it was also my attitude—that I even thought of playing it for him—that he found so irritating.  But it was like meeting Buddha.  I was in front of this larger than life figure.  I also studied with him at the Conservatoire du Musique in Geneva, and was lucky enough to have a few private lessons with him in New York

 

Before we began our formal interview, you alluded to a new musical discovery you’d made…is this a historical find, something that will likely be recorded?

Richard Savino:  It consists of a collection of cantatas by some of the most important early 18th century Spanish composers.  I will edit the music and record it as an El Mundo project.  I’m a very good sleuth.  I uncovered these personally in a collection in Spain where they should not have been located.  I had heard a rumor about some wonderful other pieces and, while trying to track those down in an archive, these literally fell out of a book and are a gold mine.

 

Details: Orlando has two remaining performances at War Memorial Opera House: June 21 and 27, 2019, both at 7:30 p.m.  Run time is 3 hours and 20 min.  Tickets:  www.sfopera.com, by phone at (415) 864-3330, or in person at the San Francisco Opera Box Office, 301 Van Ness Ave.

Richard Savino’s ensemble group, El Mundo, will perform a program of 18th century music from Latin America with the San Francisco Girl’s Chorus in October 2019.

June 21, 2019 Posted by | Art, Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The Opera Hour” radio show kicks off Sunday, May 6, 8PM on Classical KDFC with co-hosts SF Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock and KDFC President Bill Lueth

image: courtesy San Francisco Opera

This Sunday, May 6, at 8 p.m., Classical KDFC will launch “The Opera Hour,” a new opera showcase created by KDFC President Bill Lueth and co-hosted by Lueth and SFO (San Francisco Opera) General Director Matthew Shilvock.  The 60 minute program will air the first Sunday of each month.  It replaces broadcasts of complete SFO performances, celebrating the art form’s continuing vibrancy while reducing the station’s actual allocation of pure opera time.

With something for both longtime opera fans and hoping to draw in the opera curious, in each episode, Shilvock and Lueth will share new recordings of arias, duets and ensembles they are enjoying along with some of their favorites oldies, honoring singers of the past.  The hosts will also highlight opportunities to hear great singing around the Bay Area and dig into the treasure trove of archival SFO broadcasts.  Additionally, Shilvock will take listeners backstage at the War Memorial Opera House and, with special guests, share opera insights.

Details:  Classical KDFC’s The Opera Hour can be heard on the FM dial at 90.3 (San Francisco), 89.9 (Wine Country), 92.5 (Ukiah-Lakeport), 104.9 (Silicon Valley), 103.9 (Santa Cruz and Monterey); on Comcast Cable 981; or online at https://www.kdfc.com/

 

May 5, 2018 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , | Leave a comment