MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Opera in San Francisco

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Act III of Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” with Heidi Stober as Gretel and Sasha Cooke as Hansel, production by Antony McDonald; photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The last few weeks have been so busy I forgot to post my coverage of a trip last month to the Bay Area. Here are links to my reviews for Musical America of two productions at San Francisco Opera (Hansel and Gretel and Manon Lescaut) and of a concert performance of the first act of Die Walküre by San Francisco Symphony.

Filed under: Engelbert Humperdinck, Musical America, Puccini, review, San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Symphony, Wagner

San Francisco Opera Announces New Music Director

The big news from San Francisco Opera this afternoon: Eun Sun Kim, a native of South Korea, has been chosen as the fourth music director in the company’s history, effective August 21, 2021.

Of Maestro Kim’s SFO debut this past June conducting Dvořák’s Rusalka I wrote: “Holding it all together was the outstanding musical direction of Eun Sun Kim, who was at home not only with the score’s Wagnerian resonances but with Dvořák’s folk-inflected rhythmic energy, too. The orchestra’s vibrant responsiveness made Kim’s debut here a spectacular one for a company currently in search of a music director.”

Kim made the following statement:

From my very first moments at San Francisco Opera, I felt this was home. There was an unusual feeling of open collaboration across so many facets of the Company—a real sense of professional alchemy. I’m deeply honored to be joining the San Francisco Opera family, and helping to carry this incredible lineage forward.

From the press release:

Effective immediately, Ms. Kim is Music Director Designate, in which role she will participate in the planning of future seasons and in orchestral auditions. She will conduct the Company’s new production of Beethoven’s “Fidelio” that will be a part of the opening weekend of the 2020–21 Season. Complete information about San Francisco Opera’s 2020–21 Season will be announced in January.

As music director, she will conduct up to four productions in each season of her initial five-year contract, in addition to conducting concerts, working with San Francisco Opera’s resident artist Adler Fellows and participating in the executive leadership of the organization…

Born in South Korea, 39-year-old Eun Sun Kim conducts frequently at major opera houses across Europe and is increasingly recognized in North America as an insightful interpreter of the operatic and symphonic repertoire. She made her U.S. debut in September 2017, leading a production of La Traviata with Houston Grand Opera, and she was subsequently named the company’s first principal guest conductor in 25 years. Last month, she made her Washington National Opera debut conducting The Magic Flute, and upcoming U.S. company debuts include productions at the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and LA Opera. She returns to Houston Grand Opera in April for a production of Salome. In the concert hall, she has conducted the Cincinnati Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic and Milwaukee Symphony, and future performances include subscription concerts with the New York Philharmonic and Oregon, San Diego and Seattle symphonies.

Ms. Kim began her career in Europe, where she assisted Jesús López-Cobos at Madrid’s Teatro Real and Kirill Petrenko at Opéra National de Lyon, before making her own professional debut in 2012 conducting La Bohème at Frankfurt Opera.

Another important mentor to Ms. Kim was Daniel Barenboim, whom she met while working in Europe early in her career. After hearing Ms. Kim in rehearsals, Mr. Barenboim invited her to make her debut in 2015 at the Berlin State Opera, where he is General Music Director.

Among Ms. Kim’s future European engagements is her debut at the Vienna State Opera. She has previously conducted at companies including English National Opera, Opéra de Marseille, Opernhaus Zürich, Royal Danish Opera, Royal Swedish Opera and Teatro Real. She has been particularly active in Germany, where she maintains a close relationship not only with the Berlin State Opera, but also Frankfurt Opera. She has also appeared at the Bavarian State Opera, Cologne Opera, Semperoper Dresden and Stuttgart State Opera. Her international concert engagements have included performances with Beethoven Orchester Bonn, Calgary Philharmonic, Malmö Symphony, Orchestre de Paris, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and Stuttgart Philharmonic, among others.

Ms. Kim studied composition and conducting in her hometown of Seoul, South Korea, before continuing her studies at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Stuttgart (State University of Music and Performing Arts Stuttgart), where she graduated with distinction. Directly after graduation, she was awarded the First Prize in the International Jesús López-Cobos Opera Conducting Competition at the Teatro Real.

Filed under: conductors, music news, San Francisco Opera

Setting Sail with Billy Budd: A Selective Overview of the Opera’s Production History

Here’s an article I wrote for San Francisco Opera’s upcoming production of Billy Budd, which opens on Saturday.

The late New Yorker critic Andrew Porter deemed Billy Budd “musically the richest and most arresting” of Benjamin Britten’s fifteen operas. It is also arguably his most provocative and challenging. While the novella Billy Budd became enshrined in the canon shortly after the belated publication of Melville’s unfinished text in 1924 — boosted by a dramatic reappraisal of the author following a long period of neglect — the opera has taken more time to find a place in the repertory….

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Filed under: Britten, San Francisco Opera

Review of San Francisco Opera Season Closers

Orlando-Sasha Cooke as Orlando and Christian Van Horn as Zoroastro in Handel's Orlando.

Sasha Cooke as Orlando and Christian Van Horn as Zoroastro in Handel’s “Orlando.” Photo (c) Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

In addition to the wondrous Rusalka that was — by consensus, it seems — the highlight of the 2019 summer season — I wrote for Musical America about the company’s productions of Carmen and Orlando here

Overall, I found the Carmen deeply disappointing on account of misguided direction — direction that also worked against the cast. Orlando, on the other hand, was engaging and beautifully produced. Despite some miscasting, it offered an insightful interpretation of one of Handel’s richest scores.

SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco Opera made a bold move when it last presented Carmen only three years ago, at the end of the David Gockley era. It marked the first-ever North American platform for the highly controversial Catalan director Calixto Bieito, and — in spite of some flaws (the revival was actually directed by a longtime Bieito associate) — offered genuinely fresh perspectives.

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Filed under: directors, Georges Bizet, Handel, Musical America, review, San Francisco Opera

More Than a Pretty “Song to the Moon”: Rusalka as a Dark Parable

Rusalka-Rachel Willis-Sørensen as Rusalka and Kristinn Sigmundsson as Vodník the Water Goblin in Dvořák’s-credit-Cory Weaver

Rachel Willis-Sørensen (Rusalka) and Kristinn Sigmundsson (Vodník the Water Goblin); photo (c) Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

David McVicar and San Francisco Opera have been a winning combination in recent seasons. Here’s another to add to the list along with Meistersinger and Les Troyens: the company’s staging of Rusalka in June. My review for Musical America (with another on Carmen and Orlando to follow):

SAN FRANCISCO — After he returned from his sojourn in the New World, Dvořák ceased writing symphonies and turned for inspiration to Czech legend and folklore: first, in a brilliant quartet of symphonic poems — still too infrequently programmed — and then in a pair of operas.

It’s not surprising that Rusalka, the second of these, has found its place in the international repertoire as the most popular of Dvořák’s ten stage works. Along with offering a poetic variant on a universally resonant archetype (the folktale of the mermaid), Rusalka fuses Dvořák’s disparate musical influences into a versatile musical language ideally primed for narrative effectiveness.

That said, Rusalka, which premiered in 1901, suffers from some basic dramaturgical weaknesses as well as stretches of second-rate musical inspiration. But the production presented by San Francisco Opera — only the second time Rusalka has been staged by the company — swept these shortcomings aside to reveal a richly layered and fully engaging work…

My continue

Filed under: Antonín Dvořák, directors, review, San Francisco Opera

SFO’s Newly Forged Ring: Siegfried as More Than a Prequel

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Daniel Brenna as Siegfried and David Cangelosi as Mime in Wagner’s “Siegfried.” Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Continuation of my coverage of San Francisco Opera’s Ring for Musical America:

SAN FRANCISCO—From an emotional force akin to Greek tragedy to the straightforward exploits of a superhero: for a director, one of the main challenges posed by the Ring’s third evening is how to bridge that gulf, all the while clarifying the stakes in Siegfried so that the audience will buy into the return to full-on tragic mode in the cycle’s mammoth finale….

continue [behind Musical America‘s paywall — but will be open access Friday afternoon]
Part 1 here

Filed under: Musical America, review, Ring cycle, San Francisco Opera, Wagner

San Francisco Opera Reforges Its Ring

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Iréne Theorin as Brünnhilde and Greer Grimsley as Wotan in Wagner’s “Die Walküre.”
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Here’s Part 1 of my review for Musical America of San Francisco Opera’s Ring, directed by Francesca Zambello and conducted by Donald Runnicles:

SAN FRANCISCO—One sure gauge of a successful Ring production is when it consistently leads you to a liminal state: to a kind of hovering between rapt focus on the moment and deliberation about what it all implies. Over the course of San Francisco Opera’s Ring, I found myself taking that threshold for granted, encouraged to ponder the connections, musical and dramatic, that are essential for Wagner’s project to make its desired impact.

continue [behind MA’s paywall]

Filed under: directors, Musical America, review, Ring cycle, San Francisco Opera, Wagner

The Memorable Women at San Francisco Opera Continue, with La Traviata and Turandot

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Aurelia Florian as Violetta Valéry in Verdi’s “La Traviata.” Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Part two of my reviews of San Francisco Opera’s fall season is now posted on Musical America:

SAN FRANCISCO—Along with a sensational production of Elektra , San Francisco Opera’s lineup so far this season is spotlighting some of the art form’s most gripping female …

continue reading (behind Musical America‘s paywall)

Filed under: Puccini, review, San Francisco Opera, Verdi

High-Voltage Elektra at San Francisco Opera

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Christine Goerke; Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

New review for Musical America:
SAN FRANCISCO—“The museum is closing…” The Elektra presented as part of San Francisco Opera’s new fall season takes place in the midst of a fictional exhibition of Mycenaean-era artifacts. But this Keith Warner …

continue reading (paywall)

Filed under: review, San Francisco Opera

Don Pasquale and Andrea Chénier at San Francisco Opera

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In addition to Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber, I reviewed September’s other two productions at San Francisco Opera: a winning Don Pasquale (in which Larry Brownlee made his company debut) and a weak Andrea Chénier. The review is online at Musical America (subscription required):

SAN FRANCISCO—Was it merely coincidence or a cleverly tucked-away reference by way of programming? Regardless, San Francisco Opera opened its new season with a trio of operas in rotation … »Read

Filed under: Lawrence Brownlee, Musical America, review, San Francisco Opera

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