Geneva Anderson digs into art

Soprano Renée Fleming is in San Francisco for the next week—there are several chances to hear her at Davies Hall—special recital with Susan Graham next Wednesday, January 16, 2013

America’s regal soprano, Renée Fleming, will perform an all French program, including a new Debussy arrangement, on January 10, 12 and13, and in duo recital with Susan Graham on January 16, 2013, both at Davies Symphony Hall.  Photo: @Decca/Andrew Eccles

America’s regal soprano, Renée Fleming, will perform an all French program, including a new Debussy arrangement, on January 10, 12 and13, and in duo recital with Susan Graham on January 16, 2013, both at Davies Symphony Hall. Photo: @Decca/Andrew Eccles

Lyric soprano Renée Fleming has long captivated audiences with her sumptuous voice, consummate artistry, accessibility, and joie de vivre.  While opera is clearly her sweet spot, you can’t help but admire this Grammy-winning soprano for her sense of experimentation.  She cut her first rock album Dark Hope in 2010 at age 51 and hasn’t slacked off one bit in the classical realm.  In October, she drew tears with her tender “Ave Maria” as Desdemona in Verdi’s “Otello” at the Metropolitan Opera. She opened her Met career with this challenging role 17 years ago.  In December 2012, she was nominated for a Grammy for “Poèmes,” her visceral album of French works for soprano and orchestra.  Bay Area audiences are in for a special treat this week as Fleming returns to Davies Symphony Hall Thursday, Saturday and Sunday with an all French program of orchestral songs by Debussy and Canteloube, with Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) and the San Francisco Symphony (SFS).  And next Wednesday, at Davies, Fleming will perform a duo recital of French works by Debussy, Fauré, and Saint-Saëns with the legendary mezzo-soprano Susan Graham and pianist Bradley Moore.  In addition to singing, there’ll be ample opportunity to meet both Fleming and Graham as they sign cd’s following Wednesday’s performance.

MTT & Renée Fleming, January 10, 12, 13, 2013:  Davies Symphony HallMichael Tilson Thomas leads SFS and soprano Renée Fleming in the world premiere of Robin Holloway’s arrangement, commissioned by the SFS, of Debussy’s C’est l’extase. Fleming also performs selections from Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne, and the Orchestra performs Debussy’s Jeux and La Mer.  Approximate length: 2 hours

C’est l’extase is Robin Holloway’s  new orchestration of Debussy’s settings of the poems of French 19th century poet Paul Verlaine; the cycle includes the six Debussy titled Ariettes oubliées.  An SFS commission, the work receives its world premiere in these performances. Previously, SFS and MTT have commissioned and premiered three works by composer Robin Holloway, including Clarissa Sequence (1998), the Fourth Concerto for Orchestra (2007), and 2004’s En blanc et noir, an orchestration of a Debussy work for two pianos that the Orchestra performed on tour in the US and Europe.  Holloway taught music at Cambridge University for 32 years, and his students included Judith Weir and Thomas Adès.

Debussy Jeux

Debussy (arr. Robin Holloway) C’est l’extase (Settings of Paul Verlaine) (SFS Commission, world premiere)

Canteloube Selections from Chants d’Auvergne: La Delaïssádo,” Malurous qu’o uno fenno,” “Baïlèro

Debussy La Mer

 Pre-Concert Talk:  Peter Grunberg will give an “Inside Music” talk from the stage one hour prior to each concert. Free to all concert ticket holders; doors open 15 minutes before.

Audio Program Notes: A free audio podcast about Debussy’s La Mer will be downloadable from and from the iTunes store.

Thursday, January 10, 2013 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, January 12, 2013 at 8 p.m.; Sunday, January 13, 2013 at 2 p.m. 

Mezzo Soprano Susan Graham will perform a selection of French art songs in duo recital with Renée Fleming on January 16, 2013 at Davies symphony Hall.  Part of a month long tour with Fleming, this is Graham’s only Bay Area performance in the 2012-13 season.  Photo: @Dario Acosta

Mezzo Soprano Susan Graham will perform a selection of French art songs in duo recital with Renée Fleming on January 16, 2013 at Davies symphony Hall. Part of a month long tour with Fleming, this is Graham’s only Bay Area performance in the 2012-13 season. Photo: @Dario Acosta

Renée Fleming and Susan Graham, Davies Symphony Hall, Wednesday, January 16, 2012 at 7 p.m  Their pairing in Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier in 2000 and 2009 at the Metropolitan Opera was kismet.  Since then, whenever Renée Fleming and Susan Graham team up, they create magic.  Davies is the first stop in their new month-long cross country tour and these celebrated all-American divas will perform a light-hearted program of 19th century French song literature.  This is Graham’s only Bay Area performance in the 2012-13 season.   Eight composers, ranging from the romantic Hector Berloiz to the fin-de-siècle Raynaldo Hahn and André Messager, will be featured.  French composers from this period were mesmerized by lure of the exotic as were their audiences and, running through these pieces, you’ll hear references to Spain and even India.  Bradley Moore will accompany on piano.  Approximate length: 2  hours

 Saint-Saëns Pastorale,Viens! Une flute invisible,” and “El desdichado” (Ms. Fleming, Ms. Graham)

FauréPiusqu’ici-bas tout âme”, Opus 10, no.1, “Pleurs d’or”, Opus 72, Pavane, Opus 50, and Tarentelle, Opus 10, no.2 (Ms. Fleming, Ms. Graham)

Debussy Claire de lune (Mr. Moore)

Debussy Mandoline” “Beau soir” (Ms. Fleming)

O. StrausJe t’aime quand meme” from Trois valses (Ms. Fleming)

Hahn Le Rossignol” “Infidélité” “Fêtes galantes” “Le Printemps” (Ms. Graham)

BerliozLa mort d’Ophélie”, Opus 18, no.2 (Ms. Fleming, Ms. Graham)

Messager Blanche-Marie et Marie-Blanche” from Les p’tites Michu (Ms. Fleming, Ms. Graham)

Offenbach Barcarolle from Les contes d’Hoffmann (Ms. Fleming, Ms. Graham)

Delibes Duo des fleurs from Lakmé (Ms. Fleming, Ms. Graham)

CD signing:  Meet Renée Fleming and Susan Graham at a CD signing in the Symphony Store following the concert.

More about Susan Graham:  Those who attend the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD performances—at Sebastopol’s Rialto Cinemas for Sonoma County—were able to experience Susan Graham in full force last week as Dido in Berlioz’s rarely performed French opera of Trojan War, Les Troyens.  Slam dunk!  Dido calls for every emotion imaginable—from the agonizing disappointment and hurt of Aeneas’ abandonment to palpable moments of shared tenderness, love and respect.  Graham poured forth, taking up the reins held by legendary Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson whose last remarkable performances at the Met in 2003 defined the role. But seeing Graham on screen in a movie theatre is one thing and interacting with her live is another.  This is Graham’s only performance in the Bay Area in 2013 and is not to be missed.  

Susan Graham as Dido in Act V of Berloiz’s Les Toyens, conducted by Fabio Luisi; produced by Francesca Zambello.  2012-13 season.  Video: Metropolitan Opera.  Graham is featured on SFS Media’s 2010 release Mahler Songs with Orchestra, singing selections from Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder.  In October 2012, Graham released her first solo album since 2008, a compilation on Onyx titled Virgins, Vixens & Viragos, featuring music by Purcell, Berlioz, and Poulenc, among others.

Getting to Davies : Davies Symphony Hall is located at 201 Van Ness Avenue at Grove Street, in San Francisco’s Civic Center, just across the street from City Hall. The main entrance is on the south side of Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street. Driving to San Francisco and Parking: Be sure to allow ample time when driving into San Francisco on the weekend and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge—on weekends, there can be a 15 to 30 minute back-up on Highway 101 South from Sausalito onwards due to congestion around the toll-plaza.  Arrive early at your parking garage of choice because those also fill up on weekends. Recommended Garages: Two garages are very close to Davies— the Performing Arts Garage (1/2 block)(Grove Street between Franklin and Gough Streets) and Civic Center Garage (roughly 2 blocks) (McAllister Street between Polk and Larken Streets) (both have flat $15 pay cash as you enter policy on performance nights)

Tickets and information: , by phone at (415) 864-6000. Half-price tickets for children 17 and under are available for certain performances.

January 10, 2013 Posted by | Symphony | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

It’s our turn: the Bay Area honors “Flicka” with a special retirement tribute December 3, 2011

Opera Superstar Mezzo Soprano and long time Bay Area resident, Frederica von Stade, “Flicka,” is retiring. A special tribute concert celebrating her career will be held Saturday, December 3, 2011. Here, von Stade plays the diva Madeline Mitchell in “Three Decembers,” a chamber opera composed especially for her by Jake Heggie, and performed in 2008 at Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley. Photo by Kristen Loken.

For the past year, the beloved opera superstar Frederica von Stade, a long-time Bay Area resident affectionately known as “Flicka,” has been making farewell appearances and the great opera houses and concert halls worldwide, whose stages she has graced for the past 40 years have been paying tribute, one by one.  Now, it’s the Bay Area’s turn.  On Saturday, December 3, 2011, San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Performances, Cal Performances, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music will join in an unprecedented team effort to celebrate the illustrious life and career of our treasured mezzo, arts advocate, and musical celebrity.  

Eight extraordinary artists and friends of von Stade─and some as of yet unannounced surprise guests─ will lead the special one night only musical tribute, joined by von Stade and accompanied by Jake Heggie, John Churchwell and Bryndon Hassman: Sir Thomas Allen, baritone; Susannah Biller, soprano; Zheng Cao, mezzo-soprano; Joyce DiDonato, mezzo-soprano; Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano; Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, soprano; Samuel Ramey, bass; and Richard Stilwell, baritone.

The concert will feature highlights from von Stade’s expansive performance and recording career, including arias from Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, Rossini’s La Cenerentola and Monteverdi’s Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria; songs by Ravel, Mahler, Poulenc and Berlioz; selections from American musical theater; and contemporary songs by Jake Heggie.  The evening will also feature personal tributes and recollections of working with Ms. von Stade.

An intimate gala reception with the artists in the lobby of the War Memorial Opera House will follow the performance, with proceeds supporting University of California Berkeley’s Young Musicians Program and the St. Martin de Porres Catholic School in Oakland.

What’s it like to work with Flicka?  Rauli Garcia, who is the CFO of HGO  (Houston Grand Opera) made his stage debut as a supernumerary in Dead Man Walking earlier this year and his account “What a rush!”was posted on the HGO (Houston Grand Opera) blog on January 31, 2011. 

Frederica von Stade made her debut with San Francisco Opera in 1971 and has sung most of the great roles in opera over her 40 year career. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Opera

Recognized as one of the most beloved musical figures of our time, mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade began at the very top, receiving a contract from Sir Rudolf Bing during the Metropolitan Opera auditions and since her debut has enriched classical music for over four decades with appearances in opera, concert and recital.  The first aria in her career was Thomas’s “Connais-tu le pays”.  Von Stade has sung nearly all the great roles with the Met and in 2000, the company celebrated the 30th anniversary of her debut with a new production of The Merry Widow.  She made her 1971 San Francisco Opera debut as Sextus (La Clemenza di Tito) with Spring Opera Theater and her main stage debut in 1972 as Cherubino (Le Nozze di Figaro), and has appeared with San Francisco Opera in more than a dozen roles, including Mélisande (Pelléas et Mélisande), Octavian (Der Rosenkavalier), Rosina (Il Barbiere di Siviglia), Countess Geschwitz (Lulu) and the title roles of La Sonnambula, La Cenerentola, and The Merry Widow. She created two roles in world premiere productions by San Francisco Opera: Marquise de Merteuil in Conrad Susa’s The Dangerous Liaisons and Mrs. Patrick de Rocher in Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking; she also created the role of Madeline Mitchell in Jake Heggie’s chamber opera Three Decembers, presented in its West Coast premiere by San Francisco Opera and Cal Performances in 2008.

Known as a bel canto specialist, von Stade is also beloved in the French repertoire, including the title role of Offenbach’s La Périchole. She is also a favorite interpreter of the great “trouser” roles, from Strauss’s Composer (Ariadne auf Naxos) and Octavian to Mozart’s Sextus, Idamante (Idomeneo), and Cherubino. Von Stade’s artistry has inspired the revival of neglected works such as Massenet’s Chérubin, Ambroise Thomas’s Mignon, Rameau’s Dardanus, and Monteverdi’s Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria, and she has garnered critical and popular acclaim in her vast French orchestral repertoire, including Ravel’s Shéhérazade, Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’Été and Canteloube’s Les Chants d’Auvergne. She is well known to audiences around the world through her numerous featured appearances on television including several PBS specials and “Live from Lincoln Center” telecasts.

Miss von Stade has made over seventy recordings with every major label, including complete operas, aria albums, symphonic works, solo recital programs, and popular crossover albums. Her recordings have garnered six Grammy nominations, two Grand Prix du Disc awards, the Deutsche Schallplattenpreis, Italy’s Premio della Critica Discografica, and “Best of the Year” citations by Stereo Review and Opera News. She has enjoyed the distinction of holding simultaneously the first and second places on national sales charts for Angel/EMI’s Show Boat and Telarc’s The Sound of Music.

Von Stade was appointed as an officer of France’s L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1998, France’s highest honor in the Arts, and in 1983 she was honored with an award given at the White House by President Reagan. She holds five honorary doctorates from Yale University, Boston University, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (which holds a Frederica von Stade Distinguished Chair in Voice), the Georgetown University School of Medicine, and her alma mater, the Mannes School of Music. 

Details:  Celebrating Frederica von Stade, Saturday, December 3, 2011, at 7:30 p.m., Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, CA  94102.  Tickets for the concert are $50, $75 and $100.  Tickets for the gala reception, which includes premium seating for the concert, are $500.  Tickets for the concert and gala reception are available at  or the San Francisco Opera Box Office at 301 Van Ness Avenue, or by phone at (415) 864-3330.

November 28, 2011 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment