Geneva Anderson digs into art

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Songs of Travel – Vaughan Williams

The Vagabond                                                 Mr. Brancoveanu

The Roadside Fire Youth and Love

In Dreams

The Infinite Shining Heavens

Cinq mélodies “de Venise” – Fauré

Mandoline                                                       Miss Švēde

En sourdine Green

À Clymène C’est l’extase

from Floresta do Amazonas – Villa-Lobos

Canção de amor                                             Miss Valdes

Cair da tarde Melodia sentimental

from Cabaret Songs – Bolcom

Toothbrush time                                              Miss Johnson

Can’t sleep

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

Waitin’ Amor


The Marriage of Figaro – Mozart

Crudel, perchè finora                                      Miss Valdes, Mr. Brancoveanu

 Rodelinda – Handel

Io t’abbraccio                                                  Miss Johnson, Miss Švēde

 Manon – Massenet

Je suis encore tout étourdie                             Miss Valdes

 Falstaff – Verdi

È sogno, o realtà?                                           Mr. Brancoveanu

 Le vespri siciliani – Verdi

Mercé dilette amiche                                       Miss Johnson

 Sapho – Gounod

O ma lyre immortelle                                      Miss Švēde

 The Merry Widow – Lehár

Vilja                                                                 Miss Valdes, tutti

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

“Maria Stuarda,” Donizetti’s powerful Tudor queen opera, never before performed at the Met, screens on “Met Live in HD” this Saturday, January 19, 2013

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While history informs us that that Mary, Queen of Scotts never actually met Queen Elizabeth I, Donizetti couldn’t resist putting the two rival queens together to clash it out in his dramatic 1834 opera, “Maria Stuarda.”  The Metropolitan Opera premiered this fiercely dramatic opera—the second opera from Donizetti’s bel canto trilogy about the Tudor queens—on New Year’s Eve. With Joyce DiDonato as Mary Queen of Scotts and the debut of the remarkable San Francisco-trained South African soprano Elza van den Heever as Elisabetta, the power struggle between the two queens with two sets of religious beliefs and only one possible, bloody outcome couldn’t have been better cast.  This David McVicar production will be transmitted live around the world on Saturday, January 19, 2013 as part of The Met: Live in HD series and will play at 10 a.m. PST in Sonoma County at Sebastopol’s Rialto Cinemas.   Encore performances will play on Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.  Approximate running time: 166 minutes

 Those lucky enough to have experienced Joyce DiDonato’s rapturous “Drama Queens” performance in November at the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall know what magic this Grammy Award winning mezzo is capable of—channeling the very soul of her composers.  While the role of Mary is normally a soprano role, it’s been transposed for diDonato’s rich and expressive mezzo.  Here’s a taste of the passion DiDonato delivered while practicing the role. Deborah Voight’s interview was part of the Met Live in HD transmission of “Un Ballo in Maschera” on December 8, 2012 and speaks to the wonderful extras that are part and parcel of every Met: Live in HD experience—

Elza van den Heever went to extraordinary lengths to portray the legendary Queen, who is vividly developed in this production.  She even shaved her head in order to better suit the elaborate wigs and high forehead depicted in portraits of the Monarch.  The Wall Street Journal’s Heidi Waleson noted that her “big, well-controlled soprano” was “steely and assertive, with the flexibility to pull off Elizabeth’s vengeful, vitriolic cabalettas.”  And I can’t wait to see her in a wide red skirt by John Macfarlane that opens like curtains to reveal pants. Van den Heever is a graduate of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the Merola Opera Program and San Francisco Opera’s (SFO) Adler Fellowship Program.  At SFO, she last portrayed Mary Curtis Lee (general Lee’s wife) in the 2007 world premiere of Philip Glass’s Appomattox and Donna Anna in the Company’s 2007 Don Giovanni. She has also partnered with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony, notably in their triple Grammy Award winning 2009 release of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8.

Originally premiered in 1835, Maria Stuarda is based on the German writer, Friedrich Schiller’s play Mary Stuart, which depicts the final days of Mary, Queen of Scots, who was viewed as a challenger to Elizabeth I’s throne and beheaded in 1587. 

“In this mid-point opera we are really focusing on the relationship between two queens in the same moment and the political impossibility of these two women co-existing on the same small island,” said Mr. McVicar.  “It’s based on the Schiller dramatization of Mary’s story which contains the great, mythical scene – which never actually happened in history – when the two queens meet and have a cataclysmic showdown.  It crackles with drama, it crackles with romance and it’s a very, very powerful mid-point in the trilogy of these three operas.”

For Maria Stuarda, Mr. McVicar works with fellow Scotsman, John Macfarlane on set and costume designs. Mr. Macfarlane’s previous work at the Met has included the much-loved fantastical sets and costumes for Hansel and Gretel. Mr. McVicar says that this new production embraces the romance of Maria Stuarda, rather than realism: “When we did the production of Anna Bolena last season at the Met, we went for the ’nth-degree of historical accuracy, particularly in the costuming. With Maria Stuarda being a different type of opera, we’ve gone for a visual style that is free-er, that is more romantic and which somehow, rather than reflecting history, reflects the romantic nature of this retelling of the story and the sweeping romantic nature of Donizetti’s music.”

Cast: Joyce DiDonato, Maria Stuarda; Elza van den Heever, Elisabetta; Matthew Polenzani, Leicester; Joshua Hopkins, Cecil; Matthew Rose, Talbot

Artistic and Production Team: Conductor, Maurizio Benini; Production, David McVicar; Set & Costume Design, John Macfarlane; Lighting Design, Jennifer Tipton; Choreographer, Leah Hausman

Details:  “Maria Stuarda” is Saturday, January 19, 2013 at 10 a.m. (PST), with encore (re-broadcast) performances on Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. (PST).  .  Purchase tickets, $23, for Sebastopol’s Rialto Cinemas and select your seat here.   A list of participating Bay Area cinemas and online ticket purchase is available at  For a complete list of cinema locations nationwide and schedule, please visit The Met: Live in HD.  Ticket prices vary by location.  NO ONE cares what you wear or what you eat or drink but please be kind enough to elbow your snoring partners to consciousness.

Sonoma County:
Rialto Cinemas Lakeside
551 Summerfield Road
Santa Rosa, CA 95405


Napa County:
Cinemark Napa 8
825 Pearl Street
Napa, CA 94559

Marin County:
The Lark Theater
549 Magnolia Avenue
Larkspur, CA 94939

Cinemark Century Northgate 15
7000 Northgate Drive
San Rafael, CA 94903

Cinemark Cinearts Sequoia 2
25 Throckmorton Avenue
Mill Valley, CA 94941

January 17, 2013 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Cirque du Soleil’s new “Totem,” Mankind’s Evolution Unfolds…Aided by Crystal Man and a Giant Turtle

The Crystal Man is “Totem’s” connective tissue. He comes from space to spark life on Earth, animating the turtle’s skeleton early in the show, and he closes the show by diving into a lagoon. His costume is comprised of thousands of reflective crystals and when in motion, he becomes a spinning ball of light. Photo: courtesy Cirque du Soleil

With “Totem,” Robert Lepage and Cirque du Soleil again prove they are a match made in heaven.  Lepage’s endless imagination and Cirque’s deep pockets have led to a stunning new production that opened in San Francisco last Friday under the Grand Chapiteau (Big Top) in Cirque’s Village on Wheels near AT&T Park.  Even if you’ve seen a Cirque production lately, this is a show worth seeing with lots that’s new, especially in Lepage’s signature area of technical wizardry.  Inspired by many founding myths, “Totem” loosely traces the human evolutionary journey through a series of mind-blowing specially choreographed acrobatic acts performed by elite athletes in gorgeous costumes.  A backdrop of stunning video projections bring a new dimension to the stage. “Totem,” explains Lepage, “is inspired by the foundation narratives of the first peoples and explores the birth and evolution of the world, the relentless curiosity of human beings and their constant desire to excel.  The word suggests that human beings carry in their bodies the full potential of all living beings, even the Thunderbird’s desire to fly to the top of the Totem.”

“Totem” is Lepage’s second Cirque du Soleil show.  It follows the immensely successful jaw-dropping “,” which took a whopping $165 million to launch and has been running in an enormous 1,951-seat theatre at the MGM Grand since late 2004.  “KÀ” traces the epic journey of Imperial twins who embark on an adventurous journey to fulfill their destinies and is the most technologically sophisticated show I have ever seen.  It features a giant rectangular 150 ton stage that floats and rotates in the air and can pivot from horizontal to vertical and transform into several landscapes, making things like battle scenes come alive as actors scale and rappel a vertical battlefield.  

A giant turtle at centre stage represents the origins of life on earth. Beneath its shell is an effervescent community of amphibians and fish which burst into play as artists embodying frogs launch themselves into the air and Crystal man, tucked tightly into a ball, descends from space to spark life on Earth. Photo: courtesy Cirque du Soleil

For San Francisco audiences, “Totem” also falls right on the heels of Lepage’s highly publicized and controversial production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle at the Metropolitan Opera where some of his ingenious and expensive technology failed to perform as expected.  In the Ring’s first installment, Das Rheingold (September, 2010), the video technology, which was supposed to project imagery on 24 planks operated by a hydraulic system—the 45 ton “Valhalla machine”–failed during the climactic scene in which the Gods walk across a rainbow into Valhalla. That problem was resolved but others emerged in Die Walküre (April, 2011), the second installment, including leading ladies Deborah Voight and Stephanie Blythe both slipping on the planks of the $16 million machinery. “Totem” is not as spectacular as “KÀ,” nor does it carry the weight of Valhalla, but it makes for a wonderfully entertaining afternoon or evening and it is perfect for kids.

 Where “Totem” really excels is in the use of video projection and special effects, all masterminded by Pedro Pires, Image Content designer, in conjunction with Set and Props designer Carl Fillion and Lighting Designer Etienne Boucher.  In “Totem,” the projection screen is a virtual marsh at the rear of the stage.  The images projected are all drawn from nature and Pires shot most of them himself on travels to Iceland, Hawaii and Guatemala.  Throughout the show, these evolve in long mixes or morph to create an ever-changing tableau of gorgeous eye-popping color.  Way way cool factor—infra-red tracking cameras positioned above the stage and around the marsh detect movement and produce kinetic effects that interact with the artists’ movements in real time.  The results are poetic—water flows across beaches, molten lava streams, projected swimmers swim across the stage while real time swimmers emerge at the side.  As performers wade across projected water, projected ripples swell out from under their feet.  

“Totem” is filled with feats of dazzling artistry. Five unicyclists juggle metal bowls in an astounding display of agility, balance, synchronized control and physical grace, tossing the bowls with their feet─sometimes over their shoulders─and catching them on their heads without using their hands. Each unicyclst has their own look but together they form an integrated unit. Photo: courtesy Cirque du Soleil

 Kym Barrett’s creative costumes have ingenious attention to detail and look fabulous on these well-toned athletes.  Barrett explained in the press kit that, in brainstorming with Lepage, the idea was to create a real world that evolved into a fantastical world─from a documentary style to fantasy, keeping the human body and its possible transformations in mind at all times.  Her designs emphasize themes of evolution, nature itself and

In “Totem,” an American Indian performs a narrative dance using hoops to evoke various animals and images in a ritual that symbolizes the endless circle of life. The hoop dancing and roller skating in “Totem” are firsts for Cirque du Soleil. Photo: courtesy Cirque du Soleil

changes of the seasons, traditional cultural and tribal designs and sophisticated surface treatment of fabric to achieve costumes that constantly interact with and adapt to the show’s ever-changing lighting. 

Most striking is Crystal man—a recurring character—who represents the life force. He descends from space and sparks life early in the show and dives into a lagoon at the close.  His dazzling costume is covered with about 4,500 crystals and reflective mirrors and when he twirls and drops down from the sky, he glistens like a falling star.  The ten performers in the Russian bars act also stand out in their vibrant op art unitards—each is different but collectively these costumes have a harlequin meets the lost civilizations of South America vibe.  Humans, scaly fishes, clowns, a toreador, cosmonauts—whatever the costume, Barrett has designed it to accentuate the bodies and all the possible movements of these outstanding performers.

For all its wizardry and outright coolness and camp, “Totem” doesn’t really present any clear-cut thesis or timeline about where mankind has come from or is going—the approach was to throw in everything and anything and mix it all up in a series of vignettes with great stunts.  It’s an environment where Planet of the Apes chimps, Darwinesque explorers, Native Americans, clowns, businessmen, Cosmonauts, and Bollywood players all meet up.  At the end of it all, my favorite act was a male female trapeze duo cleverly enacting a romance─from an innocent game of seduction to gradually intertwined bodies enthralled in a vertical dance of unusual movements and lifts. 

Trapeze artists Louis-David Simoneau and Rosalie Ducharme play a sexy game of in-air seduction, eventually intertwining their bodies in a light-hearted vertical dance. Photo: courtesy Cirque du Soleil


Cirque Facts: The cast of “Totem” comprises 51 artists from 17 countries.

The “Totem” hybrid show is the first Cirque du Soleil show to be created in such a way that it can be adapted to the reality of arenas and other venues from the very outset.

As part of the celebration festivities surrounding the 400th anniversary of Quebec City in 2008, Robert Lepage created Le Moulin á images─the largest architectural projection ever produced─on the walls of the Bunge, a massive grain silo.

In January 2012, “Totem” will travel to London to the Royal Albert Hall. 

Details:  Cirque du Soleil’s “Totem” takes place under the Grand Chapiteau (Big Top), AT&T Park, Parking Lot A, 74 Mission Rock Street, San Francisco.  Tuesdays and-Wednesdays 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. and 1 p.m.; Sundays 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.  Closes: December 11, 2011.
Tickets: $55 to $360   Information and to purchase tickets:

November 10, 2011 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment