Geneva Anderson digs into art

“Anya17,” a new opera that explores sex trafficking and slavery, opens Friday at San Francisco’s Marine Memorial Theatre

In “Anya17,” a powerful contemporary opera which has its North American premiere this week at Opera Parallèle, naïve Anya is trafficked into Britain and forced into prostitution by a man pretending to be her boyfriend. The opera is a collaboration between British composer Adam Gorb and librettist Ben Kaye.  Watercolor by Evan Wright.

In “Anya17,” a contemporary opera which has its North American premiere this week at Opera Parallèle, naïve Anya is trafficked into Britain and forced into prostitution by a man pretending to be her boyfriend. The opera is a collaboration between British composer Adam Gorb and librettist Ben Kaye. Watercolor by Evan Wright.

Those who know her, have come to expect great things from Nicole Paiement, Opera Parallèle’s valiant Artistic Director and Conductor. But her timing of the American premiere at Opera Parallèle of “Anya17”—British composer Adam Gorb’s opera about sex trafficking and human slavery—couldn’t have been better.  On June 10, news broke that two San Francisco women (sisters) had been arrested for allegedly operating a sex trafficking ring out of several locations in San Francisco, bringing in young new girls weekly.  Human trafficking is a $32 billion industry and the US State Department estimates that between 20,000 and 40,000 people are trafficked into the country each year as modern-day slaves.  San Francisco and the Bay Area rank among the top 20 destinations, according to the FBI.  Kudos to a composer brave enough to humanize these devastating statistics and base his first opera on the insidious subject.  Gorb teamed up with librettist Ben Kaye and together they created “Anya17,” a dramatized interpretation of the lives of four very different young women trafficked from Eastern Europe and sold into sexual slavery.  The opera, performed twice before in Europe, unfolds through the eyes of Anya, a naïve and vulnerable young girl who falls in love with the wrong guy who persuades her to follow him to the West. Instead of a better life, she is betrayed and coerced into slavery. In order to survive, Anya must find an ultimate inner strength as she struggles to adapt to the humiliation and brutality of her brothel existence. The number 17 in the title comes from the practice of numbering girls on a “menu” in brothels. Last week, I interviewed Adam Gorb who definitely believes that opera can help change the world.  I’ll be posting our interview shortly, so stay tuned.

Free Stage Rehearsal, Friday, June 20: An open stage rehearsal, after which Opera Parallèle Artistic Director and Conductor, Nicole Paiement, and stage director Brian Staufenbiel (Paiement’s husband) will lead the cast and audience in a Q & A question-and-answer session, takes place at 4:30 p.m. Friday at the Marines’ Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter Street (at Mason) second floor, San Francisco. The event is free and the public is encouraged to attend.

Cast: The role of Anya will be sung by soprano Anna Noggle, whose portrayals have been described as “sensitively drawn and heart-achingly sung” (Opera News). Viktor is baritone Victor Benedetti, lauded by the Chicago Tribune for his “confident and commanding stage presence and strong, dark baritone.” Local favorites are mezzo-sopranos Catherine Cook (who sang Julia Child in OP’s La Bonne Cuisine) and Laura Krumm, soprano Shawnette Sulker, and tenor Andres Ramirez (whom OP audiences enjoyed in Trouble in Tahiti and Ainadamar).

Details: “Anya17” is at 8 p.m. in Friday, June 20, 2014 and Saturday, June 21, 2014 and at 4 p.m. on Sunday, June 22, 2014 at Marines’ Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter Street (at Mason) second floor, San Francisco. Tickets: $80 to $30, are available online here or phone City Box Office at 415-392-4400. For more information, visit

June 18, 2014 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ensemble Parallèle Presents “The Great Gatsby,” a chamber opera with the swagger and pizzazz of the roaring ‘20’s─at Yerba Buena Center, February 10-12, 2012

Beautiful, haughty, seductive, manipulative, wearied, and indulged to excess….the iconic Daisy Buchanan is played by Soprano Susannah Biller, a former SF Opera Adler Fellow, in Ensemble Parallèle’s new chamber opera, "The Great Gatsby," at Yerba Buena's Novellus Theatre February 10-12, 2012. Photo: courtesy Rapt

Ensemble Parallèle is bringing what promises to be a very  inventive contemporary opera to Yerba Buena Center’s Novellus Theatre this coming Friday-Sunday (February 10-12, 2012):  the world premiere of Jacques Desjardins’ chamber orchestration of composer John Harbison’sThe Great Gatsby.”   Based on the beloved 1925 novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the opera was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera to celebrate James Levine’s 25th anniversary as its musical director.  It premiered in 1999, with just one subsequent performance at the Lyric Opera in Chicago, mainly because it called for an orchestra of 120 musicians.  Aware of the need to make Harbison’s important work accessible to performing groups, Ensemble Parallèle, a professional ensemble-in-residence at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, embraced the project and commissioned its re-orchestration from 120 to 30 musicians, keeping the rich sound of Harbison’s music─ which includes 17 original vernacular pieces─tangos, Charlestons, jazz songs─not your traditional opera to begin with.   The cast includes 11 singers─some very well known in the Bay Area and some newcomers.  This is the first time in ten years that the piece, which opened to mixed reviews at the Met, will be performed on stage and it is Ensemble Parallèle’s most ambitious project to date.  Recognizing music’s power to transform and raise consciousness, this presentation of a classic, with some story enhancements, with should be an exciting event.   If you haven’t been to an opera before, the best thing to do is literally jump in─get tickets and go!  At 2.25 minutes with one intermission, and all in English, this opera—jazzy and emotionally gripping─should be a great introduction for newcomers.   And, if you haven’t been to Yerba Buena Center’s modern Novellus Theatre for a performance, you’re in for a treat.  Unlike San Francisco Opera, these seats are much more user friendly and the site lines are exceptional. 

The cast looks fabulous.  Lyric tenor Marco Panuccio, a newcomer to the Bay Area, is Jay Gatsby.  Panuccio portrayed Des Grieux in Massenet’s Manon for Lyric Opera of Chicago.  Soprano Susannah Biller, a Bay Area favorite and former SF Opera Adler Fellow, with a rich and powerful voice, who portrayed Eurydice in Ensemble Parallèle’s spring 2011 production of Philip Glass’ Orphée, is Daisy Buchanan, Gatsby’s fixation.  Baritone Jason Detwiler, who played St. Plan in Ensemble Parallèle’s summer 2011 production of Four Saints in Three Acts, is Nick Caraway, the opera’s narrator.  Casting also includes tenor Dan Snyder as Tom Buchanan, Disy’s husband; baritone Bojan Knezevic as the machanic George Wilson; mezzo soprano Erin Neff as his wife Myrtle Wilson and mezzo-soprano Julienne Walker as Jordan Baker.  All come together to present the gripping story—in music─of a very shallow lot of characters who make a tragic mess of their indulgent lives.  The setting is deco and the drama transpires against the colorful backdrop of the roaring ‘20’s, when American society enjoyed great prosperity, endured Prohibition and the dance music of the day was jazz. 

Gatsby marks the fourth major presentation of fully-staged contemporary chamber operas by Ensemble Parallèle’s duo–Artistic Director/Conductor Nicole Paiement and Stage Director and Production Designer Brian Staufenbiel.  Gatsby follows last year’s Orphée by Philip Glass, Alban Berg’s Wozzeck in 2010 and Lou Harrison’s Young Caesar in 2007–all to acclaim from audiences and critics.  Last August, in conjunction with SFMOMA’s fabulous The Steins Collect, Ensemble Parallèle presented a critically acclaimed production of the rarely performed Four Saints in Three Acts by composer Virgil Thompson and librettist Gertrude Stein. (Read ARThound’s coverage here.)

Paiement founded Ensemble Parallèle in 1994 to perform new music and to collaborate with various artists such as dancers, choreographers, and visual and multimedia artists— as the Ensemble’s name suggests, in parallel.  These collaborations have allowed Ensemble Parallèle to reach a wider-ranging and younger audience.  In 2007 Ensemble Parallèle began to focus exclusively on contemporary chamber opera, producing works with vitality, edge, and appeal, so important in world of opera.

Gatsby Insights at 7:15 PM, prior to each performance

Run-time: 2.25 hours with one intermission

Sung in English/English Supertitles

Details:  All performances are held at Novellus Theatre, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission Street, San Francisco, 94103

Friday, February 10, 2012
 – 8:00 PM
Saturday, February 11, 2012 – 8:00 PM
Sunday, February 12, 2012 – 
2:00 PM

Tickets are $35 to $85 and are on sale at the YBCA Box Office.  Call 415-978-2787 or order online at:

A Fitzgerald gem to ponder:  

I was thirty. Before me stretched the portentous, menacing road of a new decade.

It was seven o’clock when we got into the coupe with him and started for Long Island. Tom talked incessantly, exulting and laughing, but his voice was as remote from Jordan and me as the foreign clamor on the sidewalk or the tumult of the elevated overhead. Human sympathy has its limits, and we were content to let all their tragic arguments fade with the city lights behind. Thirty – the promise of a decade of loneliness, a thinning list of single men to know, a thinning brief-case of enthusiasm, thinning hair.  But there was Jordan beside me, who, unlike Daisy, was too wise ever to carry well-forgotten dreams from age to age.  As we passed over the dark bridge her wan face fell lazily against my coat’s shoulder and the formidable stroke of thirty died away with the reassuring pressure of her hand.

So we drove on toward death through the cooling twilight. (Nick,  The Great Gatsby, Chapter 7, pp 307-309)

February 5, 2012 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment