ART hound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

Italian Maestro, Nicola Luisotti, San Francisco Opera’s Music Director, will step down in 2018

Maestro Nicola Luisotti during a SFO performance. Photo: Terrence McCarthy, SFO

Maestro Nicola Luisotti during a SFO performance. Photo: Terrence McCarthy, SFO

Nicola Luisotti will end his term as music director of the San Francisco Opera (SFO) when his contract expires at the end of the 2017-18 season. He delivered the news Wednesday at War Memorial Opera House before the full company of staff, musicians, chorus, dancers and crew.

Announced by SFO General Director David Gockley as the Company’s third music director in 2007, Mr. Luisotti took the position in September 2009, replacing Donald Runnicles 17 year run. Since his Company debut in 2005 leading Verdi’s La Forza del Destino, the Tuscan-born maestro has led over 30 SFO productions and concerts to date.  He is beloved by audiences world wide.

“I believe that close to a decade is about the right time to be leading a company,” said Luisotti in a press statement. “I want the company’s general director designate, Matthew Shilvock, to be able to move freely into the future with his ideas, his artistic interests and to take San Francisco Opera into a new direction”

In an interview that appeared on the popular opera blog, Operachic, on January 14, 2010, Luisotti, who had just taken the SFO position, explained his feelings at the time

I’ve nurtured a great love for San Francisco, an almost visceral appreciation.  The first time I arrived here in San Francisco, I had come from Los Angeles where I had just conducted a production of Pagliacci.  After staying a month in Los Angeles, I needed to spend two months in San Francisco for (Verdi’s) la Forza del Destino.  I was tired, and really, I just wanted to go home to my house in Tuscany.  But I think it was totally love at first sight when I saw the city of San Francisco. I was living in an apartment in Pacific Heights, practically with a bay view and one also of the Golden Gate Bridge, and thankfully because of the perfect weather, I was able to enjoy a gorgeous view from one of my very first days there. San Francisco’s Opera House revealed itself as a pure environment for music. The enthusiasm, the unity of the professionals in the house, and the love of the art form can generate extraordinary things. Therefore, I fell in love with the city, with the opera house, with the people, and everything that this place – for me, quite magical – offered.  I asked myself if one day I’d ever be lucky enough to become the Musical Director of an opera house that was so special like this one.  So when David Gockley [SFO’s General Director] proposed the position to me, I didn’t hesitate for a single second. My response was immediate without a doubt whatsoever.  That was the place where with Rita, my wife, I was to spend the next part of my life.

Luisotti will lead this summer’s Don Carlo followed by opening SFO’s 94th season in September 2016 with a new Royal Opera, Covent Garden/Beijing National Centre for the Performing Arts co-production of Andrea Chénier. Photo: Terry McCarthy, SFO

Luisotti will lead this summer’s “Don Carlo” followed by opening SFO’s 94th season in September 2016 with “Andrea Chènier,” a new co-production of Royal Opera, Covent Garden/Beijing National Centre for the Performing Arts. Photo: Terry McCarthy, SFO

Shilvock, who succeeds David Gockley as general director on Aug. 1, says he was “deeply saddened” by Luisotti’s decision.

David Gockley said: “I can think of no other person who embodies the love and passion of opera as much as Nicola Luisotti. I’m particularly heartened to know that Nicola will be returning to guest conduct and will continue to maintain his association with the Company. I wish him great success in his future endeavors and know that he will continue to affirm his status as one of the great conductors of his generation.”

Acknowledging the unique artistry of the SFO Orchestra and Chorus, Maestro Luisotti thanked them for their role in the realizing memorable productions of Luisa Miller, the world premiere of Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara (Two Women), Mefistofele, Lohengrin, Salome, Norma, the trio of Mozart-DaPonte operas, and the Verdi Requiem in a historic combined performance with the Teatro San Carlo of Naples.

Luisotti will lead this summer’s Don Carlo followed by opening San Francisco Opera’s 94th season in September 2016 with a new Royal Opera, Covent Garden/Beijing National Centre for the Performing Arts co-production of Andrea Chénier and the annual Opera in the Park concert at Golden Gate Park.  Later in the season, Luisotti will lead a new production of Aida and a revival of Rigoletto.  Throughout his tenure at SFO, the maestro has always had a full plate of international appearances too.  This past season, he scored great acclaim for his conducting engagements at Madrid’s Teatro Real, Milan’s Teatro alla Scala, London’s Royal Opera House and most recently in Paris for a new production of Rigoletto.

Advertisements

May 18, 2016 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Horse Sense—ARThound talks with San Francisco Opera’s Daniel Knapp about “Patches,” the equine star of “The Trojans,” at War Memorial Opera House through July 1, 2015

In San Francisco, they call just him “Patches.”  He’s the 23 foot tall Trojan horse in Berlioz’s epic opera, “The Trojans,” which opens San Francisco Opera’s summer 2015 season.  The horse was designed by famed British designer Es Devlin and built in the UK for the 2012 Royal Opera House co-production, directed by David McVicar.  The horse is constructed with steel and custom-pressed fiberglass appliques, which are flame resistant and appear like various old scrap metals.  There are 2 carpenters and 3 acrobats inside the horse moving and manipulating it and it travels on a special track that was mounted on the reinforced War Memorial Opera House stage.  Image from Act I of the 2012 Royal Opera production, ©Bill Cooper/Royal Opera House

In San Francisco, they call just him “Patches.” He’s the 23 foot tall Trojan horse in Berlioz’s epic opera, “The Trojans,” which opens San Francisco Opera’s summer 2015 season. The horse was designed by famed British designer Es Devlin and built in the UK for the 2012 Royal Opera House co-production, directed by David McVicar. Patches is constructed with steel and custom-pressed fiberglass appliques, which are flame resistant and appear like various old scrap metals. There are 2 carpenters and 3 acrobats inside the horse moving and manipulating it and it travels on a special track that was mounted on the reinforced War Memorial Opera House stage. Image from Act I of the 2012 Royal Opera production, ©Bill Cooper/Royal Opera House

Horses are mythic.  There’s none more colossal or more steeped in legend than the Trojan horse, a prize so glorious that it could not be left standing outside Troy’s gates but once brought inside, would destroy all those in power. As San Francisco Opera opens its summer season with six performances of Berlioz’s glorious musical epic, The Trojans, I spoke with David Knapp, the company’s new production manager, about “Patches,” its equine star. The 23-foot-tall Trojan horse, which is on stage for most of the 5+ hour opera, has been nicknamed “Patches” by SFO because it’s literally pieced together from scraps and functions much like a mechanized puppet, with carpenters and acrobats inside it manipulating it.  Back after a 47 year hiatus, it took over a decade of planning to bring the $6 million production to San Francisco Opera (SFO).  It’s staged by Sir David McVicar, the acclaimed Scottish director, and is a coproduction of SFO, Royal Opera House, Teatro alla Scala, and Vienna State Opera.  Since the opera opened to a sold-out house on June 6, it has drawn universal praise from critics and audience alike.  Long before the opera opened though, Patches was a big draw with SFO staff and special visitors who came back stage in droves to pose for photos with the humongous but intricately constructed artwork.  Here is my conversation with Knapp about this horse—

What’s so special about this giant horse that has travelled here from Europe.

Daniel Knapp:  It’s magnificent—7 meters (approximately 23 feet) tall and is not only a sculpture that is scenic art but it’s also a puppet to a certain extent.  It’s constructed of steel and fiberglass and doesn’t weigh too much because it’s mainly fiberglass.  It has a gaf piston in it which allows for the rocking of the head and basic movements and that’s very exciting.  When it’s first introduced, you get the impression that it’s very tall, frightening.  You only see the upper part of the head and wonder where’s it coming from and what does the whole thing look like and is it really a horse?  There are 2 carpenters and 3 acrobats inside, moving and manipulating the horse and they’ve been here practicing since the rehearsal period began.

Trojan Horse in a scene from

Trojan Horse in a scene from “The Trojans,” at SFO through July 1. Sets designed by Es Devlin. Photo: ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Who gets credit for artistic design of the horse?

Daniel Knapp:  It’s Es Devlin, a British designer who’s involved with all the top rock and roll shows—U2 tour, Take That tours, Miley Cyrus—and with opera and theatre.   She designed the closing ceremony for the 2012 London Olympic Games.  She runs an office with a multitude of assistants and she has just opened an office in Brazil.  The conception for the horse came from the workshops of the Royal Opera House and she worked with them to refine it, from the model to the life-scale sculpture we call “Patches” because it’s patched together.

Has Devlin created any other animals that we might recognize?

Daniel Knapp:  She’s done all the set and scenic design on this opera but I’m not aware that’s she done another horse.  For one of the last Take That tours, she did a big man, that was more than 40 feet tall, that stood up over the course of the concert, going from crouching to standing in the middle of the audience.  (Take That is a leading British pop group that formed in 1990 and currently consists of musicians Gary Barlow, Howard Donald and Mark Owen)

(Es Devlin designed the giant walking elephant for Take That’s Circus Live Tour 2009.  The 26 foot tall elephant had translucent skin made light-weight chain mail and was constructed by Mark Mason of Asylum Models.  It was operated by 13 puppeteers inside the skins and another four at ground level who controlled the head, trunk and legs.  It had rods that moved the ears and its tail was an inverted acrobat wearing a helmet with hair extensions.  (To read about and see the elephant, click here.)

The version of “The Trojans” directed by David McVicar and currently at San Francisco Opera, is set at the time of its composition, in the 1850s, Second Empire France.  All the parts affixed to the Trojan horse look like period tools and scrap metal bits but are custom-pressed fiberglass appliques that are flame resistant and lightweight.  Image from Act I of theRoyal Opera production, directed by David McVicar with set designs by Es Devlin, costume designs by Moritz Junge and lighting design by Wolfgang Göbbel, performed at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden 22 June 2012. ©Bill Cooper/Royal Opera House

An overwrought Cassandra realizes that the Trojan horse will be the end of Troy in a scene from Act I of the Royal Opera production, directed by David McVicar with set designs by Es Devlin, costume designs by Moritz Junge and lighting design by Wolfgang Göbbel, performed at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden 22 June 2012. The version of “The Trojans” directed by David McVicar and currently at San Francisco Opera, is set at the time of the opera’s composition, in the 1850s, Second Empire France. All the parts affixed to the Trojan horse look like period tools and scrap metal bits but are custom-pressed fiberglass appliques that are flame resistant and lightweight. Image: ©Bill Cooper/Royal Opera House

This version of Troyens is set, more or less, at the time of its composition, in the 1850s, Second Empire France.  How did that influence the actual conception for the horse that looks like a machine horse? 

Daniel Knapp:  Everything that you will see that is part of the horse could have been made at that time or could predate that time.  The horse is pieced together from what appear to be rifles, screwdrivers, all sorts of tools and scrap materials like keys…it’s actually mostly fiberglass, a piecemeal puzzle that once put together appears as this great horse.

Carbon footprint aside, what’s entailed in getting something of this magnitude to San Francisco?  And then assembling it?

Daniel Knapp:  We always use steam ship companies because air is too expensive.  It was shipped in 16 containers (40 foot high cube containers).  Your entire household could fit in 1 of these containers, or, if you’ve got an extensive household you might need 1.5 containers.  It all arrived in pieces in a very organized matchbox system.  A team form the Royal Opera House came over to help with the assembly because they are the originators.  Actually, our staff went to La Scala last year and watched this process and got a feel for what it takes to put on this production.  With this run, we did all of that assembly in 3.5 days; in Milan, they weren’t as quick as we were.  We didn’t have the time or money to allow for more time to do it.

How many scenes does Patches appear in?

Daniel Knapp:  He appears in a multitude of scenes but I’m not going to give away any of the excitement.  He’s on stage for a fair while and, when he’s not hiding in the back, sometimes he’s looming in the background and sometimes he’s hidden by a blackout curtain.

How mobile is the horse and how does it move around the stage? I heard this entails acrobats and carpenters.

Daniel Knapp:  Yes, that’s exactly what it takes.  We have few carpenters and acrobats around and in it, moving it.  It’s on wheels, on a huge A stand.  If you think of a child’s swing on the playground and think of it for giants, that’s what the internal structure of the horse is.  It moves around on wheels that are on tracks just like a train.   The tracks are a part of the original design and actually travel with the production.  We had to cover our stage floor with another floor and that entailed adding about 1 inch to our stage to ensure that the weight is distributed evenly so that we don’t damage our rather old stage floor.  We also had to re-enforce some of the stage structure underneath to make sure that we don’t suddenly fall in the basement.  The horse might be relatively light but the trappings—the drum trucks, the big scenery elements for Troy and Carthage—all together, those weigh 32 tons.

Anything tricky about coordinating the movement of the horse to the music and the singers?  Do any of the lead singers have any direct interaction with the horse?

Daniel Knapp:  As we know from the Trojan story, the horse is sort of a separate entity.  The lead singers certainly react to it but they don’t interact with it directly.  The horse’s movement on stage is cued like everything else—people execute what they have rehearsed and there’s nothing complicated about that.  These are professionals who are used to working to cues from the stage manager, such as “horse go upstage.”   We do this in rehearsal and there’s always a review afterwards to make sure that we have hit our marks.  Sometimes, the director might want to change the speed but it’s not complicated.  There’s one boss and that’s the director but on stage, it’s the stage manager who calls out when and where.

This is a fiery horse—how is the fire created and will there be accompanying liquid nitrogen and steam, like in the Ring? 

Daniel Knapp:  The horse itself doesn’t breathe fire but its mane burns, which is a very impressive sight.  In the original version, in London, they had the horse smoke but due to restrictions over here, the director distanced himself from that when he did the revival in Milan.   That’s what I said about cooking the meal for the third or fourth time, you’ve left out the ginger but added something else.  Over here, steam and liquid nitrogen are our only possibilities to create atmosphere due to the CVA restrictions we work under as collaborating artists.

Do you have much freedom in interpretation of this opera and how the horse is used here in San Francisco?

Daniel Knapp:  It’s like your last cooking experience when you invite people over for dinner and you remember that, three years ago, you did this fantastic meal and you want to do the same meal again.  Will do it exactly the same way?  No—that’s exactly the same situation with a revival or co-production.  We are not the conceivers, David McVicar or Ses Devlin, we are realizing their artistic vision. We had Leah Hausman, the co-director from London, here, who is a dance and movement director and coach, and other of McVicar’s associates here.  We could never do this just ourselves because then it’s not in the original spirit.  People in the house who were part of the original creation production do feel differently than people who have just joined a few years later and we needed them.

A very rare photo of the Trojan horse in the Port at Carthage scene from San Francisco Opera’s first production of “The Trojans” in 1966.  Courtesy: SFO

A very rare photo of the Trojan horse in the Port at Carthage scene from San Francisco Opera’s first production of “The Trojans” in 1966. Courtesy: SFO

How appropriate is the War Memorial Opera House stage for a horse of this weight and magnitude?  Isn’t SF much smaller than the Royal Opera House or La Scala?

Daniel Knapp:  It’s not only the horse but it’s also the enormous drum trucks which support Carthage and Troy. Carthage is an entire terracotta kingdom and you’ll be blown away by it, as much as by the horse.  You’ve also got the chorus, the singers, dancers, acrobats—over 130 on stage.

Stage wise, we are a little smaller but, auditorium wise, we are bigger than all the European houses.  We compare ourselves to the size of Warsaw’s Teatr Wielki, which has the biggest modern stage (together with the Opéra Bastille in Paris) in Europe.  Here in the US, you have this curiosum or wonderful paradox because sometimes there are stages like ours that originally did not have a backstage or a real up stage storage area but only a stage area.  Actually, up until 45 years ago, all our sets were built right on stage.  Our auditorium is huge compared to all the European houses.  With 3,146 seats, we are bigger than all other houses but now our stage is smaller, so over the next 20 years there will probably be some developments.

Any funny stories related to Patches so far?

Daniel Knapp:  Just people excited to have their picture taken with Patches.  It’s like we are a part of Disney World here; even the staff is coming down to the stage to have their picture taken.

What’s your favorite scene in Trojans?

Daniel Knapp:  It’s the whole opera, the whole thing, because once it’s done because it’s such a complex and huge show that I can’t focus on one thing but rather all the contributing moments.

Daniel Knapp is SF Opera’s new production manager and has been in San Francisco on the job for the past four months.  The enthusiastic German hit the ground flying, taking on Berlioz’s mammoth, “The Trojans,” which opened SFO’s summer season on June 6 and Marco Tutino’s “Two Women,” which had its world premiere on June 13, 2015.  Knapp is responsible for all aspects of SFO’s physical productions which have an annual operating budget of $22 million.  For the past six years, he was the artistic production director and head of company management for Austria’s prestigious Bregenz Festival, where he served as house producer for both the Opera on the Lake Floating Stage and Bregenz Festival House.  He told ARThound that he can’t wait to explore Northern California with his family who will join him here this summer.  Photo: courtesy SFO

Daniel Knapp is SF Opera’s new production manager and has been in San Francisco on the job for the past four months. The enthusiastic German hit the ground flying, taking on Berlioz’s mammoth, “The Trojans,” which opened SFO’s summer season on June 6 and Marco Tutino’s “Two Women,” which had its world premiere on June 13, 2015. Knapp is responsible for all aspects of SFO’s physical productions which have an annual operating budget of $22 million. For the past six years, he was the artistic production director and head of company management for Austria’s prestigious Bregenz Festival, where he served as house producer for both the Opera on the Lake Floating Stage and Bregenz Festival House. He told ARThound that he can’t wait to explore Northern California with his family who will join him here this summer. Photo: courtesy SFO

How are adjusting to your new position here?  What are your responsibilities?

Daniel Knapp:  I’m adjusting great; it’s full of surprises in a good and interesting way.  The whole scope of coming to a new country and a new working environment offers a multitude of perspectives.  It’s been very welcoming so far and very intense, so it feels a lot more like I’ve been here a year and half rather than just a few months.

I’m responsible for overseeing all the productions at SFO— all the scenic elements, costume shops, sound and technical departments and all the labor that’s involved, which is all the talent on the stage plus the electricians and all the support staff…so, it’s quite a scope.  I’ve met a lot of people who have a certain sense of responsibility for this company, who identify with it and who have been here much longer than me.  They’ve introduced me to the company culture and what necessary changes could be made and how we can achieve those as a team over the next 3, 5, 15, or however many, years to stay up with the world class opera companies.

With “Troyens” up first, followed by the world premiere of “Two Women,” it’s kind of a trial by fire for you.  What’s the most demanding part of your job right now? 

Daniel Knapp:  I’m a little in both fire and water trials right now.   I’m from a country that has plenty of drinking water and lakes on our doorstep and coming to Northern CA, and being in the middle of a drought, is also a big trial.  To be able to make use of all the technology and intellectual capital that surrounds us here and to engage the techies is another exciting challenge for our opera company.  With respect to the work load, at the Bregenzer Festival in Austria, I was always overseeing two productions; last summer it was three productions, one of which was The Magic Flute on the floating stage.  I was also very involved with the pre-production of Turandot that will premiere on July 22.  So that’s heavy experience with large-scale productions on the lake, in the open air, and it’s a bit of a different scale.  We had many international co-productions as well with companies in Europe and the US, so I am quite used to doing multiple wedding dances at the same time.  That was exciting but the requirements of a concentrated festival versus a company that is doing performances year-round are different.  What I love here is that we have an interwoven schedule so that the three monumental productions— The Trojans, the world premiere of Two Woman and the revival of the classic, Figaro, in an adapted version, Figaro, will all be able to fit on stage.   That was a lot to step into.

How did you prepare for this opera?  Did you do extensive reading or do you mainly execute and manage?

Daniel Knapp:  My learning process is the interaction with the artists, finding out what their real concerns are and looking behind the scenes.  I’m not the guy who tries to be more prepared than the director and I don’t do the full research of the director or designers.  However, when I have questions about why something is set-up a certain way and why something can’t be done, I get very involved.  I always question creative teams about why they would want to emphasize something or not.  I need to understand where they are coming from so that we can get the most from their art on stage.  The great thing about my job is that, if I do it correctly, you don’t notice that I am there.

What are you most looking forward to in the coming fall season?

Daniel Knapp:  Meistersinger of course! That’s because it’s another one of those monster shows with great music, a great designer, great artists…so that’s very nice.  I’m also excited about Usher (Fall of the House of Usher) which is so theatrical.  The great thing is that my former boss, David Pountney,  is the director of that show, so I get to meet him under different circumstances, to collaborate and to actually tell him “no.”

Details:  There are three remaining performance of The TrojansSaturday, June 20, 2105, 6PM; Thursday, June 25, 6PM and Wednesday, July 1, 6PM.  Seats are selling fast—purchase tickets here or phone the Box Office at (415) 864-3330.  War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco.   Every performance features supertitles (English translations) projected above the stage, visible from every seat.  The June 25th and July 1st performance feature OperavVision, HD video projection screens in the Balcony level.   For information about the SFO’s Summer 2015 Season, click here.

June 19, 2015 Posted by | Art, Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Saturday, November 9, is Open House at San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera is reaching out to families to build future audiences.  SFO hosts its second Community Open House on Saturday, November 9 and on November 24 and 30th, SFO will host “The Barber of Seville for Families,” a special two-hour long family-friendly production of Rossini’s hilarious opera.  Photo by Marie-Noelle Robert/Theatre du Chatelet.

San Francisco Opera is reaching out to families to build future audiences. SFO hosts its second Community Open House on Saturday, November 9, and on November 24 and 30th, SFO will host “The Barber of Seville for Families,” a special two-hour long family-friendly production of Rossini’s hilarious opera. Photo by Marie-Noelle Robert/Theatre du Chatelet.

San Francisco Opera (SFO) will host its second Community Open House at the War Memorial Opera House this Saturday, November 9, from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.  Free to the public, this special community event is structured for individuals and families who have a curiosity about opera and are interested in learning more about the world of opera, including production and artistic elements.  Children are welcome.

*  Musical presentations at 11:20 a.m. and 12:50 p.m. will feature music from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville conducted by Resident Conductor Giuseppe Finzi and vocal selections featuring Adler Fellows Laura Krumm and Joo Won Kang.

* Musical presentation at 12:10 p.m. will feature the San Francisco Opera Chorus, led by Chorus Director Ian Robertson

*  Activities include sing alongs with the Adler Fellows (10:30 & 11:20 a.m.), stage combat workshops (10:40 & 11:20 a.m. and 12:50 & 1:40 p.m.),  costume demonstrations (12:50 & 1:40 p.m.) and an opportunity to meet General Director David Gockley (1:40 p.m.)

*  Other activities in the opera house lobbies will include arts and crafts projects, a table exploring San Francisco Opera’s archives, a costume photo booth, opera videos on demand and wig and makeup demonstrations.

*  Attendees can enter to win tickets to SFO’s “The Barber of Seville” (11.13.2013 – 12.1.2013) or “The Barber of Seville for Families” (11.24.2013 and 11.30.2013).

Details: War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco.  One of the last Beaux-Arts structures built in the United States, the Opera House seats 3,146, with 200 standing room places.  Every performance features supertitles (English translations) projected above the stage, visible from every seat.

For more information on San Francisco Opera and their upcoming performances, visit http://sfopera.com/Home.aspx

Driving to San Francisco and Parking: Be sure to allow ample time when driving into San Francisco and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge—there is frequently a delay on Highway 101 South due to ongoing road expansion work.  Arrive early at your parking garage of choice because those also fill up, especially when the San Francisco Symphony is performing on the same day.  Recommended Garages:  Two garages are very close to War Memorial Opera House— 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)

November 8, 2013 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Moby Dick” fans line-up for Jake Heggie and Patrick Summers after Sunday’s “Flying Dutchman” at San Francisco Opera

Carol Upshaw of Walnut Creek was first in line to get her "Moby Dick" autographed  by Jake Heggie and Parick Summers at War Memorial Opera House yesterday.  "Jake's a friend and a great singer."

Carol Upshaw of Walnut Creek was first in line to get her “Moby Dick” autographed by Jake Heggie and Parick Summers at War Memorial Opera House yesterday. “Jake’s a great singer.”

It was an oceanic Sunday at War Memorial Opera House.  Immediately following the matinee of Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman” at San Francisco Opera—the story of a cursed ship’s captain, which featured immense video projections of a raging sea—many members of the audience lined up outside the main lobby to meet composer Jake Heggie and Maestro Patrick Summers, who were signing San Francisco Opera’s new Moby-Dick DVD.  Heggie was in high spirits, chatting up fans, and so was Summers, having just conducted a mesmerizing Dutchman—which clocked in at 2 hours and 50 minutes, short for Wagner.

Recorded in October 2012 in San Francisco, Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer’s universally praised Moby-Dick is an adaptation of Herman Melville’s classic novel set for the lyric stage. The opera earned rave reviews at SFO in 2012 and features tenor Jay Hunter Morris in the role of Captain Ahab, Stephen Costello as Greenhorn, Morgan Smith as Starbuck, Jonathan Lemalu as Queequeg and Talise Trevigne as Pip.  Principal Guest Conductor Patrick Summers conducts the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus.  The SFO presentation reunited Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer with the original creative team of director Leonard Foglia, set designer Robert Brill, costume designer Jane Greenwood, video projection designer Elaine J. McCarthy and choreographer Keturah StickannMoby-Dick was co-commissioned by SFO in partnership with the Dallas Opera, San Diego Opera, Calgary Opera and the State Opera of South Australia.  The opera premiered to accolades at the Dallas Opera’s Winspear Opera House in April 2010 and then moved to San Diego before opening at SFO in 2012.

Six Recordings Planned: On October 29th, SFO also released a DVD-Blu-Ray of the Company’s production of Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia featuring Renée Fleming (DVD (RRP $24.99) and Blu-ray Ray (RRP $39.99)).  Recorded live in high-definition at San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House, the DVD/Blu-ray recordings feature special bonus material including interviews with cast members, program notes, plot synopses and production photographs.  Moby-Dick and Lucrezia Borgia represent the first of six operas to be released by San Francisco Opera in this new collaboration with EuroArts, with an additional four operas expected to be announced in 2014.

Moby Dick and Lucrezia Borgia are now available for purchase directly from SFO’s Opera Shop, and they can be also mailed to you.  Click here for more information about purchasing from SFO.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

November 4, 2013 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A chance to hear the future of opera—delightful, affordable, favorite excerpts from well-known operas—the Merola Grand Finale concert is this Saturday, August 17, 2013

The 2013 Merola Opera Program Fellows on the steps of War Memorial Opera House.  The fellows conclude their intensive summer training program with the Grand Finale Concert on August 17, 2013.  Photo:  Kristen Loken

The 2013 Merola Opera Program Fellows on the steps of War Memorial Opera House. The fellows conclude their intensive summer training program with the Grand Finale Concert on August 17, 2013. Photo: Kristen Loken

Every summer, the Merola Opera Program concludes with its delightful Grand Finale concert, featuring the current year’s Merola fellows singing excerpts from major operas on the stage of the War Memorial Opera House, the home of the San Francisco Opera (SFO).   This summer’s concert is Saturday, August 17, at 7:30 PM.   All 23 of the 2013 Merolini will sing and the entire production will be staged by George Cederquist, the 2013 Merola Apprentice Stage Director.  John DeMain, Director of the Madison Symphony and Artistic Director of the Madison Opera, will conduct the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Merolini in a program featuring beloved classics by Barber, Bernstein, Britten, Gounod, Handel, Korngold, Massenet, Monteverdi, Offenbach, Purcell, Rossini and Wagner sung in Italian, French, German, and English.  If you, or someone accompanying you, are somewhat new to opera, the 17 selections are a perfect introduction to opera—they are all classics, the excerpts are short and varied and feature gorgeous orchestral music and were chosen by the singers to showcase their unique vocal talents.   And, it goes without saying; the concert is both a launchpad and an opportunity to meet the next generation of opera luminaries, in the formative phases of their careers.  These young Merola singers will go to sing major roles in the world’s leading opera houses.

“The Merola Grand Finale is, for all of us Merolini, one of the highlights of the summer.  It’s our chance to show how much we’ve grown and how much potential we have,” said 2013 Merola Apprentice Stage Director George Cederquist. “My goal is to create a staged concert that is celebratory, beautiful and fluid. This is not the time for highly conceptual work. My aim is to help my singer-colleagues sound great, act great and look great, and I intend to do just that.”  Cederquist, was one of only 10 Americans to receive the 2011-2012 German Chancellor Fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the first Stage Director ever to win this prestigious award. Next season, he will be Resident Artist Stage Director at Pittsburgh Opera under the mentorship of General Director Christopher Hahn.

The songs to be performed (but not in the order of performance) and the singers are as follows:

Lohengrin (Wagner)
“Mein lieber Schwann”
Lohengrin: Issachah Savage (tenor)

Lohengrin (Wagner)
“Ortrud! Wo bist du?”
Elsa: Aviva Fortunata (soprano)
Ortrud: Daryl Freedman (mezzo-soprano)

Billy Budd (Britten)
“Claggart, John Claggart, beware!”
Captain Vere: Robert Watson (tenor)
Billy Budd: Alex DeSocio (baritone)
John Claggart: Thomas Richards (bass-baritone)

Manon (Massenet)
“Restons ici … Voyons, Manon … J’ai marqueé l’heure de depart”
Manon: Maria Valdes (soprano)
Des Grieux: Pene Pati (tenor)

Vanessa (Barber)
“Is it still snowing? … Must the winter come so soon? … Do not utter a word”
Erika: Rihab Chaieb (mezzo-soprano)
Vanessa: Linda Barnett (soprano)

Il ritorno d’Ulisse (Monteverdi)
“Dormo ancora?”
Ulisse: Joseph Lattanzi (baritone)

La Cenerentola (Rossini)
“Ma dunque io sono un ex? … Un segreto d’importanza”
Dandini: Efraín Solis (baritone)
Magnifico: John Arnold (bass-baritone)

Ariodante (Handel)
“Vanne pronto, Odoardo … Voli colla sua tromba”
Il Ré: Rhys Lloyd Talbot (bass-baritone)

Luisa Miller (Verdi)
“Il padre tuo … Tu punisicmi, o signore … A brani, a brani, o perfido”
Luisa: Jacqueline Piccolino (soprano)
Wurm: David Weigel (bass-baritone)

Sapho (Gounod)
“Où suis-je? … O ma lyre immortelle”
Sapho: Zanda Švēde (mezzo-soprano)

Die Freischütz (Weber)
“Nein, länger trag’ ich nicht die Qualen … Durch die Wälder, durch die Auen”
Max: Casey Finnigan (tenor)

Ascanio in Alba (Mozart)
“Dal tuo gentil sembiante”
Fauno: Alisa Jordheim (soprano)

La belle Hélène (Offenbach)
“C’est le ciel qui m’envoie”
Hélène: Kate Allen (mezzo-soprano)
Paris: Matthew Newlin (tenor)

Die tote Stadt (Korngold)
“Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen”
Fritz: Chris Carr (baritone)

Dido and Aeneas (Purcell)
“Thy hand Belinda … When I am laid in earth”
Dido: Katie Hannigan (mezzo-soprano)

Candide (Bernstein)
“Make our garden grow”
Candide: Pene Pati (tenor)
Cunegonde: Maria Valdes (soprano)
Old Lady: Kate Allen (mezzo-soprano)
Governor: Casey Finnigan (tenor)
Maximillian: Rhys Talbot (bass-baritone)
Pangloss: David Weigel (bass-baritone)
Chorus: tutti Merolini

More about Merola:  Guided by Sheri Greenawald, San Francisco Opera Center Director and internationally acclaimed soprano, the Merola Opera Program is an independent nonprofit organization which operates in collaboration with the San Francisco Opera.  Founded in 1957 and named for San Francisco Opera’s urbane and forward-thinking founder, Gaetano Merola, the Program is recognized as one of the most prestigious operatic training programs in the world. The Merola Opera Program typically receives more than 800 applications for approximately 30 positions. Throughout the summer, the Merola artists participate in master classes and private coachings with opera luminaries and give several public performances.  Participants—who include singers, apprentice coaches and an apprentice stage director—also receive training in operatic repertory, foreign languages, diction, acting and stage movement.  The Merola Opera Program fully underwrites each participant’s travel, housing, coaching and educational expenses, as well as all production costs associated with the summer schedule and a weekly stipend for each participant. Program alumni include Joyce di Donato, Sylvia McNair, Patricia Racette, Ruth Ann Swenson, Carol Vaness, Deborah Voigt, Anna Netrebko,Susan Graham, Dolora Zajick, Brian Asawa, Jess Thomas, Thomas Hampson, Rolando Villazón, and Patrick Summers.

Details:  The Merola Grand Finale is Saturday, August 17, at 7:30 p.m. at War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco (across from City Hall).  One of the last Beaux-Arts structures built in the United States, the Opera House seats 3,146, with 200 standing room places. Tickets:  $25 to $45. Purchase online here (all Merola events are listed under “Other Productions”) or in person at the San Francisco Opera Box Office in the lobby of the War Memorial Opera House at 301 Van Ness Avenue. The Box Office is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Tickets may also be ordered by calling 415-864-3330.   There is a special student ticket rate of $15, but these tickets can only be purchased in person at the Box Office with proper identification. There will also be a reception beginning at 10 p.m. downstairs in the Opera House Café. Each ticket for the reception is an additional $50.

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—there is frequently a 20 to 30 minute back-up on Highway 101 South from Petaluma through Novato due to wine country traffic and road work related to highway expansion. Arrive early at your parking garage of choice because those also fill up on weekends. Recommended Garages:  Two garages are very close to War Memorial Opera House— 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)

August 15, 2013 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Nutcracker:” the treasured holiday classic opens Friday, December 8, 2012, at San Francisco Ballet

San Francisco Ballet in Helge Tomasson's "Nutcracker," December 7-28, 2012, at War Memorial Opera House.  @ Erik Tomasson

San Francisco Ballet in Helge Tomasson’s “Nutcracker,”December 7-28, 2012 at War Memorial Opera House. @ Erik Tomasson

San Francisco Ballet’s magical production of Tchaikovsky’s beloved Nutcracker opens Friday, December 7, 2012, at War Memorial Opera House, and is always a special treat with its distinctive bow to San Francisco.   Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson’s production is set in San Francisco on Christmas Eve during the 1915 Pan Pacific International Exposition, an extraordinary world’s fair that transformed San Francisco into a dream-like city of magical domes and pastel-colored buildings.  The ballet opens with a stunning collage of black and white photos from the actual world’s fair, with shots of the Palace of Fine Arts, the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, Chinatown, and the famous “Painted Lady” Victorians of Alamo Square.  It gradually narrows in on 100 painted Victorian windows until landing at the toymaker Drosselmeyer’s window and the mysterious world of magic and wonder contained therein.   The photos on the fireplace wall at the home in Act I are family photos of the founders of San Francisco Ballet, the visionary Christensen Brothers.  And, in the Act I battle scene (between the mice and the gingerbread soldiers), the giant fireplace stands 22 feet tall and 19 feet wide, about the size of two SF cable cars stacked on top of each other.  The gorgeous combination of dance, Tchaikovsky’s romantic music and the beautiful costumes are punctuated by real magic tricks, orchestrated by the production’s own magic consultant, Menlo Park illusionist Marshall Magoon.  He has made sure that Uncle Drosselmeyer, who makes toys change size and come to life, is unforgettable.  Of course, the very best trick up Drosselmeyer’s sleeve is when he commands the Christmas tree to grow and grow and GROW and it does!   Nutcracker is mesmerizing in all respects.  Plan on taking the family, or someone very special, to this delightful holiday classic.

SF Ballet’s very first Sugar Plum on life before spandex:  Gisella Caccialanza Christensen was the prima ballerina who danced the Sugar Plum Fairy role with the San Francisco Ballet when it staged the first complete U.S. performance of the ballet on Christmas Eve, 1944.  Her partner was her brother-in-law, William Christensen, then the company’s director and her husband, Lew Christensen, was serving in the army.  With a $1,000 budget,  Company members helped by standing in long lines to purchase fabric for costumes in 10-yard lengths, as dictated by wartime rationing.  “The production’s  “Onna White helped me make my costume, which was really awful. We made our own tights then too. They weren’t like tights worn today.  We had to sew our stockings onto little pants to make tights and, like old-style tights, they’d bag out and wouldn’t bounce back and cling to your legs. We sewed pennies or nickels to the waistbands so we’d have something to grab onto to yank up the tights. You couldn’t practice plies or anything before a performance or else you’d be standing there with baggy knees when the curtain came up.  The zipper on my costume split while I was dancing in the dress rehearsal of Nutcracker.  I remember William saying to me, ‘Good luck, sis, and don’t breathe!’”  (Quote courtesy of SF Ballet.)  Ms. Christensen, a long-time resident San Bruno, passed in 1998 at the age of 83.

San Francisco Ballet in Helgi Tomasson's “Nutcracker.” Photo: © Erik Tomasson)

San Francisco Ballet in Helgi Tomasson’s “Nutcracker.” Photo: © Erik Tomasson)

Six Family Performances with gifts & pre-performance Photo Op:  For six performances only, the first 500 children to arrive at War Memorial Opera House will receive a special gift and, at intermission, everyone will enjoy complimentary beverages and sweet treats by Miette, the official bakery of SF Ballet’s Nutcracker.  One hour prior to curtain, Nutcracker characters pose for photos for 30 minutes, so bring your camera.  Lines for entry to War Memorial Opera House and for photos form early, so arrive early.  Photo lines must be stopped 30 minutes prior to curtain so the dancers aren’t late for the performance.  The six family performances will be held on:  Fri, 12/ 7, 7pm; Sun, 12/ 9, 7pm; Tue, 12/11, 7pm; Wed, 12/12, 7pm; Thu, 12/13, 7pm; Fri, 12/14, 2pmHelp SF Ballet win “Battle of the Nutcrackers” on Ovation TV:  You can brush up on San Francisco Ballet’s splendid production by watching this year’s “Battle of the Nutcrackers” on Ovation TV featuring the Company’s 2008 production, with Elizabeth Powell as Clara, on Sunday, December 9 at 3 p.m.  SF Ballet’s production is the only American production to compete in this festive annual ballet extravaganza.  SF Ballet’s production will also broadcast on Mon, Dec 10, 2 pm PST; Mon, Dec 17, 12:30pm PST;  Thu, Dec 20, 10 am PST; Sun, Dec 23, 3pm PST; Tue, Dec 25, 1:30pm PST.

“Battle of the Nutcrackers” is an annual competition on Ovation TV (which plays on Direct TV Channel 274 and other Bay Area service providers as well) and features six Nutcracker productions from around the world:  SF Ballet, the Mariinsky Theatre Ballet, The Royal Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet, Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, and the Australian Ballet.  Viewers are invited to watch the various productions and vote on their favorite on Ovation TV’s “Battle of the Nutcrackers” Facebook page.  The full broadcast schedule is here.

San Francisco Ballet’s Luke Ingham in Tomasson's “Nutcracker.”  Photo: © Erik Tomasson)

San Francisco Ballet’s Luke Ingham in Tomasson’s “Nutcracker.” Photo: © Erik Tomasson)

To vote for SF Ballet’s Nutcracker, click here, then scroll down to SF Ballet, and hit the yellow VOTE button.  You may vote as many times as you want and do not need to enter the sweepstakes contest at the bottom of the page in order to vote.  The Viewers’ Choice will be revealed on Christmas Eve, December 24th at 8:00pmET.  A marathon of all the productions will air all day on Christmas Day, December 25th.Ovation TV runs on Direct TV Channel 274 and other Bay Area service providers as well.  To find Ovation TV in your area, click here to be re-directed to their website where you will enter your zip code

Nutcracker Details:  Nutcracker opens Friday, December 7, 2012 and runs through December 28, 2012.  San Francisco Ballet performs at the historic War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco.  Parking:  Civic Center Garage on McAllister Street between Larkin and Polk or Performing Arts Garage on Grove between Franklin and Gough streets.  Traffic delays are common particularly on 101 Southbound around the Golden Gate Bridge and parking can be time-consuming, so plan adequately.  No late seating:  SF Ballet enforces a strict no late seating policy, meaning that guests will not be seated after the lights have dimmed. Latecomers will be asked to stand until there is a break in the program, and will be seated at the discretion of management.  Tickets: $20 – $305, purchase online here  or through Box Office (415) 865-2000, Monday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.  Information:  www.sfballet.org  or (415) 865-2000

Bringing Children:  San Francisco Ballet recommends that children attending Nutcracker be at least 5 years old.  Any child who can sit in his own seat and quietly observe a two-hour performance without questions is welcome.  Booster seats for children are provided free of charge for use on the Orchestra level.  No infants may be brought to a performance.  Parents should take children creating a disturbance during the ballet out of the performance hall. 

Love Ballet?  Don’t miss “Nureyev: A Life in Dance” and the fabulous Degas drawing in “The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism,” both at San Francisco’s de Young Museum now: 

Costume for Rudolf Nureyev in the role of Romeo, Act II, Romeo and Juliet, Opéra national de Paris. 1984. Velvet, silk, silver lamé, metallic lace, and sequins. Collection of CNCS/Opéra national de Paris.  Photograph by Pascal François/CNCS

Costume for Rudolf Nureyev in the role of Romeo, Act II, Romeo and Juliet, Opéra national de Paris. 1984. Velvet, silk, silver lamé, metallic lace, and sequins. Collection of CNCS/Opéra national de Paris. Photograph by Pascal François/CNCS

“You live as long as you dance” was Rudolf Nureyev’s mantra throughout his meteoric rise as an internationally acclaimed dancer, choreographer, ballet master, and company director.  In celebration of the 20th anniversary of Nureyev’s death, and his remarkable career and art, the de Young Museum is exhibiting more than 70 costumes from ballets danced by the master from every period of his long career— Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, and Manfred among them— as well as a selection of photographs, , life-size dance videos, and ephemera that chronicles his illustrious life.  Rudolf Nureyev: A Life in Dance  explores Nureyev’s life in dance and his lifelong obsession with the details of fabric, decoration, and stylistic line.  As a meticulous performer, the Russian ballet master demanded costumes that were not only beautiful, but precisely engineered to suit the physical demands of his dance.  He also loved embellishment and these costumes reflect his highly-refined aesthetic, standing as fantasias of embroidery, jewels, and braid.  Rudolf Nureyev: A Life in Danceoffers an intimate view of the man behind the grand gestures, a man, as Mikhail Baryshnikov said, who “… had the charisma and simplicity of a man of the earth, and the inaccessible arrogance of the gods.” 

Organized in collaboration with the Centre national du costume de scène in Moulins, France, and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the de Young Museum is the exhibition’s exclusive U.S. venue. 

Great Christmas Gift!   The accompanying catalogue, Rudolf Nureyev: A Life in Dance, presents Nureyev’s extraordinary ballet costumes and career, recalling key dates and performances with more than 200 photographs in color and black-and-white. Bilingual text in English and French. 160 pages. Hardcover $29.95.  Available exclusively in the Museum Stores, or online at shop.famsf.org.

Edgar Degas, “Two Dancers” (1905), Charcoal and pastel on tracing paper, 43 x 32 inches, The William S. Paley Collection, courtesy of MoMA.

Edgar Degas, “Two Dancers” (1905), Charcoal and pastel on tracing paper, 43 x 32 inches, The William S. Paley Collection, courtesy of MoMA.

Don’t Miss the Degas!  If you’re at the de Young Museum, don’t miss Edgar Degas’ spectacular charcoal drawing, “Two Dancers” (1905), in the second gallery of their other special exhibition,  The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism  (September 15-December 30, 2012.)  This is a huge graphic work imbued with the very essence of dance—graceful movement.  No one understood and could convey the anatomy of the dancer and movement like Degas who created this as part of a series of preparing dancers.  Nearly half of all Degas’ paintings and pastels are of dancers.  When asked why he drew so many, he replied, ” It is only there that I can discover the movement of the Greeks.” (catalogue p. 36)  The exhibition itself includes of over 60 artworks from William S. Paley’s remarkable collection of 19th and early 20th century art.  Paley bought this Degas drawing in 1935 from the important French dealer Ambroise Vollard and it was rarely exhibited both before and after his purchase.

De Young Details: Rudolf Nureyev: A Life in Dance runs (October 6, 2012 – February 17, 2013).  The de Young Museum is located at 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Parking: By entering Golden Gate Park from 8th Avenue (at Fulton Street), you can park for free for 4 hours on the street on John F. Kennedy Drive and have easy access to the museum. Otherwise, enter on 10th Avenue (at Fulton) and park at the Music Concourse Garage (M-F $4.50/hour and $5/hour on weekends). Tickets: $20 Adults; $16 seniors, students with I.D.; $10 youth 6-17; members and children free. Fee includes access to all museum collections and exhibitions including The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism which closes Sunday, December 30, 2012.  More information: (415) 750-3600 or deyoung.famsf.org.

December 7, 2012 Posted by | Art, Dance, de Young Museum | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Puccini’s “Tosca” opens Thursday, November, 15, 2012 at San Francisco Opera with two different casts—Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu and American Patricia Racette will split the lead role of Tosca

Romanian soprano, Angela Gheorghiu (left) and American soprano, Patricia Racette (right) will split the lead role of Tosca, the hot-blooded beauty, who commits murder for the man she loves, and then plunges to her death in SF Opera’s “Tosca,” which runs November 15-December 2, 2012 at SF Opera. Photo: Ken Howard (Gheorghiu) and Scott Suchman (Racette)

An intoxicating beauty, a lecherous villain, boldfaced treachery and murder, topped off by a spectacular suicide: Puccini’s Tosca delivers high drama with a supremely lyrical score that never fails to entertain.   San Francisco Opera (SFO) closes its fall season with what looks to be a marvelous Tosca, conducted by SF Opera Music Director Nicola Luisotti and featuring two renowned casts of principal singers, rotating between 12 performances, as was the case with Rigoletto, which opened SFO’s fall season.  Splitting the role of Tosca, Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu and American soprano and former Adler Fellow, Patricia Racette—two very strong but different voices—promise to enliven the production.   Directed by former Adler fellow, Jose Maria Condemi, the production features a gorgeous series of tromp-l’oeil sets designed by Thierry Bosquet and inspired by a 1932 SFO production.  Also starring are Italian tenor Massimo Giordano, in his SFO debut, and third-year Adler Fellow, American tenor Brian Jagde as Mario Cavaradossi, and Italian baritone Roberto Frontali and Mark Delavan (former Merolini Woton in recent SFO’s 2011 Ring Cycle, as Baron Scarpia. The final two performances will be conducted by Resident Conductor Giuseppe Finzi.

Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu opens the opera on Thursday, singing beside Massimo Giordano as Mario Cavaradossi and Roberto Frontali as baron Scarpia.  Gheorghiu returns to SFO following her highly praised 2008 appearance as Mimi in La Bohème.  Gheorghiu, known for her theatricality and fiery temperament is well suited for Tosca, one of the great diva soprano roles that not only requires powerful singing but convincing acting as well.   For the opera to really succeed, Tosca needs to seduce not only those men on stage but the entire house too.  Gheorghiu has previously sung Tosca at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden and Deustche Oper Berlin.  She made her SFO debut in 2007 as Magda in Puccini’s La Rondine, a role she reprises this season at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden.

American dramatic soprano Patricia Racette is up on Friday, singing beside Brian Jagde as Mario Cavaradossi and Mark Delavan as Baron Scarpia.  She is known for her spectacular suicide leap, which Tosca takes from a castle parapet at the end of the opera.  Racette garnered accolades and headlines for the role of Tosca in 2010 when she in stepped in on late notice to make her Met role debut and has since reprised the role at Washington National Opera, the Ravinia Festival and again at the Metropolitan Opera.

Racette also continues her more than 20-year relationship with SFO which she began as a college senior when she won first prize in the Merola Opera Program auditions.  She made her debut with the San Francisco Opera in 1989 as the voice of the priestess in Aida.  She sang several more roles with SFO while in the Merola program, including Alice Ford in Falstaff, Rosalinda in Die Fledermaus, Sister Osmina in Suor Angelica, and Freia and Helmwige in The Ring Cycle.  In 1991, she was made an Adler Fellow which led to several more performances at the SFO over the next two years, including Micaëla in Carmen, Dunyasha in War and Peace, the First Lady in The Magic Flute, and Mimì in La bohème.  She most recently appeared at SFO in 2010, as Marguerite in Gounod’s Faust and in 2009 as each of the three heroines in Puccini’s triptych Il Trittico.  She has performed in 29 mainstage productions with the Company.

In SFCV interview with Jason Serinus on 11/6/2012, Racette said “My teacher calls it my ‘glove opera.’  My voice is so very, very happy doing this part. It really likes to function just the way this role does….I love that he (Puccini) gives her (Tosca) these magnificent, soaring passages. I don’t feel like I’m singing when I’m doing it. It feels like completely raw emotion riding on music, as though I’m saying things or screaming things. And that’s what’s so masterfully presented in the score. When she drops into the lower part of her voice, there’s more of a maturity to her. It’s unlike any of Puccini’s other roles.”

This production, which was first conceived by opera impresario and stage director Lotfi Mansouri in 1997, is a re-creation of Armando Agnini’s Tosca production that opened the War Memorial Opera House on October 15, 1932 and featured the acclaimed Italian soprano, Claudia Muzio.  The national anthem and first act of the opera were broadcast nationally and the opera and the house were given accolades.  What better way to kick-off the holiday season than in this historic building with this dramatic and endearing opera.

Jose Maria Condemi’s staging is always interesting and innovative but true to Puccini’s very detailed staging instructions.  For SFO’s June 2009 Tosca production, he was praised for cleverly moving the chorus members/extras on the stage so that they had real presence despite their non-speaking roles.

Masestro Luisotti always delights in his passionate conduciting of the SF Opera Orchestra and promises to be one of the highlights of the this production.

Run time is 2 hours and 40 minutes with two intermissions.

Details:  War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco.  One of the last Beaux-Arts structures built in the United States, the Opera House seats 3,146, with 200 standing room places.  Every performance features supertitles (English translations) projected above the stage, visible from every seat.

Performances: The twelve performances of Tosca are November 15 (7:30 p.m.), November 16 (8 p.m.), November 18 (2 p.m.), November 20 (8p.m.), November 21 (7:30 p.m.), November 24 (8 p.m.), November 25 (2 p.m.), November 27 (8 p.m.), November 28 (7:30 p.m.), November 29 (7:30 p.m.), December 1 (8 p.m.) and December 2, 2012 (2 p.m.).  Click here to see cast scheduling information.  Tickets: $22 to $340 at the Box Office, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, by phone at (415) 864-3330 or purchase online here.  Standing Room tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance; $10 each, cash only.

November 14, 2012 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Merola Artists’ Magnificent “Grand Finale” Concert, Saturday, August 18th, 2012

2012 Merola Opera Artists performing Puccini’s “Già che il caso ci unisce…Bevo al tuo fresco sorriso” from “La Rondine” in the Merola Grand Finale Concert, Saturday, August 18, 2012. Magda – Elizabeth Baldwin, Lisette – Jennifer Cherest, Ruggero – Casey Candebat, Prunier – Joshua Baum, Celesta – Sun Ha Yoon, Chorus – Tutti Merolini. Photo: Kristen Loken

Saturday night’s Merola Grand Finale performance at War Memorial Opera House gave the public a chance to experience what a summer of intensive training has done for the 23 talented young singers in the prestigious opera book camp.  The three hour concert featured a captivating and eclectic mix of 19 demanding opera arias, duets and songs, chosen by the fellows to showcase their voices.  The audience, packed with family members, friends, and opera lovers, was so enthusiastic that, twice, it burst into spontaneous applause interrupting a performance in progress.   No problem!…all was taken in stride.

Tenor Casey Candebat, from New Orleans, delivered a remarkable and haunting “Porquoi me réveiller,” the third act aria in Massenet’s Werther.  Candebat sang with so much feeling that he transported the audience right into Werther’s melody.  Candebat’s chemistry with mezzo-soprano, Sarah Mesko, as Charlotte, who sang with passion to match his, was palpable.  The duet evoked whoops and cheers all around.  Candebat is one of 6 strong lyric tenors in the Merola program this year, quite a feat.

Tenor Casey Candebat and mezzo-soprano Sarah Mesko sing “Ah! Mon courage m’abandonne…Pourquoi me réveiller?…N’achevez pas” from “Werther” by Jules Massenet. Photo: Kristen Loken

Mezzo Soprano Erin Johnson, from New Jersey, was exceptional in “Their spinning wheel unwinds Dreams,” from Benjamin Britten’s two act chamber opera, The Rape of Lucretia.  Her lush and lovely legato, and dramatic stage presence transported us into Lucretia’s world of loss and despair.  Johnson’s voice blended beautifully with soprano Rose Sawvel and mezzo-sopranos Sarah Mesko and Carolyn Sproule.

Powerhouse soprano Elizabeth Baldwin wowed me with her sensational voice and commanding presence in the second half of the program.  As she sang Medora’s stunning solo from Act 1 of Verdi’s Il Corsaro, I felt chills…caught in the grips of overpowering but doomed love.

Tenor AJ Glueckert, from Portland, Oregon, who left his mark on all who heard him as the Man with the Paint Brush in July’s Merola performance of Postcards from Morocco, closed the first part of the evening with the pleasing and very difficult duet “At Last I’ve Found You,” from Samuel Barber’s Vanessa, performed with soprano Melinda Whittington.

In addition to singing, most of the fellows can act.  The program trains them in movement and acting, role preparation and offers several performance opportunities throughout the summer. (See ARThound’s 7.17.2012 article The Merola Opera Program presents Dominick Argento’s rarely performed opera,“Postcard from Morocco,” this Thursday and Saturday, at Cowell Theatre, Fort Mason.)  Canadian Bass baritone, Gordon Bintner, who has that “it” factor in spades, along with dashing good looks, lent a natural comedic air and grace to his Belcore in Donizetti’s “Come Paride vezzoso” and to his Taddeo in Rossini’s “Orsù, la tua nipote…Pappataci! Che mai sento!,” from L’Italiana in Algeri which he performed with Tenor Joshua Baum as Lindoro and Bass-baritone Seth Mease Carico as Mustafà.  Baritone Joseph Lattanzi doned goggles and hammed it up as Jupiter, a buzzing singing fly in the annoyed ear of soprano Rose Sawvel.  The duo were hysterical.

Bass Andrew Kroes, from Wisconsin, delivered Marcel’s moving battle song “Piff, paff,” from Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots, with great aplomb.

Soprano Elizabeth Baldwin performs “Egli non riede ancora!…Non so le tetre immagine” from “Il corsaro” by Giuseppe Verdi. Photo: Kristen Loken

The accompaniment, under the Nicholas McGegan’s apt conducting, was impressive, especially Berlioz’s exhilarating masterpiece overture, “Béatrice et Bénédict,” which opened the evening.   In the first song, Lully’s “Il faut asser,” from Alceste, I had trouble hearing the voices over the orchestra, a problem which quickly resolved itself.  Adam Luftman’s lush trumpet solo in the program’s second half— “Povero Ernesto!…Cercherò lontana terra” from Donizetti’s Don Pasquale—was divine.

Apprentice stage director Jennifer Williams’  staging was baffling—she went for a minimalistic look, placing a tufted velvet divan on one side of the stage and an antique chair tilted on its side on other side.  In between them was a lamp sporting a naked light bulb.  All this was against the elegant arched wooden back-drop of the Moby Dick set.  A few prop pieces were added here and there to give diversity to the 19 scenes that she was responsible for, but she did not waver from her minimalist approach.  It was awful to be in the audience, in a darkened environment, hoping to see the singers’ faces and instead be subject to the intense and unrelenting glare of that blasted bulb.

The evening ended with a glorious “Già che il caso ci unisce…Bevo al tuo fresco sorriso,” from Giacomo Puccini’s opera, La Rondine (The Swallow), bringing most of the fellows on stage.  Once again, soprano Elizabeth Baldwin, as Magda, made an impression.  Her powerful richly textured voice projected above the others—and with her commanding stage presence—I could not help but circle her name and scrawl beside it several exclamation points.  All these singers are going places but she’s on my watch list.

More About Merola:  Guided by Sheri Greenawald, San Francisco Opera Center Director and internationally acclaimed soprano, the Merola Opera Program is an independent nonprofit organization which operates in collaboration with the San Francisco Opera.  Founded in 1957 and named for San Francisco Opera’s founder, Gaetano Merola, the Program is recognized as one of the most prestigious operatic training programs in the world.  The Merola Opera Program typically receives more than 800 applications for approximately 30 positions. Throughout the summer, the Merola artists participate in master classes and private coachings with opera luminaries and go on give several public performances.  Participants—who include singers, apprentice coaches and an apprentice stage director—also receive training in operatic repertory, foreign languages, diction, acting and stage movement.

August 20, 2012 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jun Kaneko’s Delightful “Magic Flute”–a digital turning point–at San Francisco Opera through July 8, 2012

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

San Francisco Opera’s Summer Season closes its opera performances with its magical and revolutionary new production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute featuring 3,000 tempura and chalk paintings by legendary ceramic artist and painter, Jun Kaneko.   Good bye traditional sets!   We’re entering a brand new era–the entire stage contains projection panels and is in constant motion and the effect is utterly impressive.  Kaneko’s fabulous costumes add to the experience.  This time, the music takes a back seat to the visual.

The Magic Flute is at War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave.,  San Francisco.  Performances are at 8 p.m. on June 16, June 19, June 29 and July 6; 7:30  p.m. June 21 and 27; 2 p.m. June 24 and July 8, 2012.  Tickets are $21  to $288  Information: (415) 864-3330, www.sfopera.com

July 8, 2012 Posted by | Opera | , , , , | Leave a comment

Marin artist Michael Schwab will sign his “Nixon in China” posters following Sunday’s opera

Marin artist Michael Schwab was commissioned by San Francisco Opera to create the poster to commemorate John Adams’ opera “Nixon in China,” which opens San Francisco Opera’s Summer 2012 Season. Image: courtesy Michael Schwab

I’ll be at tomorrow’s matinee performance of John Adams’ Nixon in China which opened San Francisco Opera’s Summer Season to rave reviews on June 8, 2012.  Afterwards, I’m going to meet acclaimed Marin artist Michael Schwab in the Opera Shop, where he will be signing the striking limited edition poster he created especially for this San Francisco Opera production.  His bold portrait of Richard Nixon in profile, against a vivid red backdrop, is elegant in its simplicity.  While focused on Nixon, it implies much more and the closer you look, the more you see.  The artwork is available as a limited edition poster, reproduced in two sizes, and is also featured on the cover of the Company’s Nixon in China program book.  Last week, I had the pleasure of talking with Michael Schwab about his creative process, something like a studio visit by phone, and will be publishing that shortly.

From his studio in Marin, Michael Schwab has established a national reputation as one of America’s leading graphic artists. Dramatic in its simplicity, Schwab’s work is easily recognized by his signature use of large, flat areas of color, dramatic perspectives and bold, graphic images of archetypal human forms.  He has created award-winning images, posters, and logos for numerous clients, including the Golden Gate National Parks, Major League Baseball, Robert Mondavi, Muhammad Ali, Nike, Robert Redford, and most recently, the poster for the America’s Cup 2013 in San Francisco.  His previous collaborations with San Francisco Opera include posters for the Company’s 2011 Ring Cycle and Boris Godunov in 1992.

Schwab’s Nixon in China poster is printed on archival fine art paper and is available as an unsigned 16″x24″ poster ($75) and a signed 24″x36″ collector’s poster ($150) through the San Francisco Opera Shop at the War Memorial Opera House and online at www.sfopera.com .  Following the Sunday, June 17, 2012, 2 p.m. matinee performance of Nixon in China,  Michael Schwab will sign posters of both sizes at the Opera Shop immediately following the performance.

Details: San Francisco Opera’s Nixon in China runs for seven performances June 8-July 3, 2012 at the War Memorial Opera House.  Tickets and information: www.sfopera.com.
or call (415) 864-3330.

June 16, 2012 Posted by | Art, Opera | , , , , , | 1 Comment