MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Opera in Latin America: San Francisco Opera Talks

San Francisco Opera’s Opera Aficionado virtual conversations in July will focus on Opera in Latin America in a series of live, 75-minute Zoom discussions.

  • Sunday, July 11, 1 pm: The Zarzuela

Speaker: Stage Director Emilio Sagi

Originating at a palatial, 17th-century hunting lodge near Madrid, the Zarzuela is a dramatic form of musical storytelling that once dominated the stages of Spanish-speaking counties in worlds both old and new. Opera stage director Emilio Sagi will lead us on a historical survey of an art form rarely appreciated—or even known—in modern-day America

  • Sunday, July 18, 1 pm: Baroque Opera in the New World

Speaker: Laura Prichard

The arrival of Spanish colonists in what they thought was a “new world” forever changed human civilization and its course in history. Laura Prichard will travel with us back in time to the Baroque Era in Latin America, where unique forms of classical music and opera flourished. From boy choirs singing a cappella to the lost operatic works of Mexican composers like Manuel de Zumaya, this lecture will have you yelling Bravo! for all things Mexican Baroque.

  • Sunday, July 25, 1 pm: Contemporary Latin Stage Works

Speaker: Albert Montañez

In today’s operatic landscape, the old classics still reign, and the roster of new works premiered by major companies is dominated by composers of European and American birth. Meanwhile, composers throughout Latin America continue to tell their own stories and heritage through our beloved art form of opera. Multidisciplinary artist Albert Montañez returns to Opera Aficionado to shine a spotlight on new stage works from the contemporary Latinx world.

TICKETS: $5–$40

Students, educators and individuals in need: $5/session.

General admission: $20/session, discount available for multiple-sessions order.

Enable another person to attend*: $40.

*This is not a tax-deductible contribution.

Tickets are available until noon on the day of each event at sfopera.com/aficionado.

Filed under: music news, San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera Announces New Season

And it’s now been announced: San Francisco Opera returns to a season of live performances with Puccini’s Tosca on Saturday, August 21, inaugurating the tenure of Eun Sun Kim as the company’s new music director. The refurbished War Memorial Opera House will greet audiences with newly installed custom seats and accessibility enhancements.

This is being billed as a “transitional year” and includes three new productions: Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fidelio and, continuing the Company’s Mozart-Da Ponte Trilogy, Così fan tutte and Don Giovanni. The season also includes a revival of Bright Sheng and David Henry Hwang’s Dream of the Red Chamber, a free Opera at the Ballpark simulcast, multiple concert programs, and a new livestreaming option for select performances.

From the press release:

Kim’s music directorship begins with Tosca, a masterpiece central to San Francisco Opera since it opened the War Memorial Opera House in 1932. Kim will also lead Live and In Concert: The Homecoming on September 10 and returns to the podium on October 14 to conduct a bold new production of Beethoven’s ode to freedom Fidelio, along with the annual Adler Fellows concert, The Future Is Now, and a Summer 2022 tribute to the music of Giuseppe Verdi.

Eun Sun Kim said: “When I was appointed Music Director Designate in December 2019, it seemed certain that the time until I officially assumed the position would fly by. And then, of course, the whole world came to a standstill. I’m so proud of the way the entire San Francisco Opera family has worked to remain resilient during this time—we’ve created new ways to make music together and we’ve encouraged each other in strength. Now this steadfast faith will allow us to finally rejoin the audiences who have so patiently waited for our return to the War Memorial Opera House. I hope this is a joyful moment for our whole community, as we open this new chapter together with a sense of renewed hope and optimism.”

After making “a company debut of astonishing vibrancy and assurance” (San Francisco Chronicle) leading Antonín Dvořák’s Rusalka in June 2019, Eun Sun Kim was appointed Music Director Designate in December 2019 in a move the New York Times called “pathbreaking.” The Seoul, South Korea-born Kim will help shape San Francisco Opera’s artistic vision as the Company heads into its second century. San Francisco Opera’s first two general directors, Gaetano Merola and Kurt Herbert Adler, both regularly conducted performances during the Company’s first six decades. In 1985, Sir John Pritchard was appointed San Francisco Opera’s first music director (1985–89). He was succeeded by Donald Runnicles (1992–2009) and Nicola Luisotti (2009–18). Kim is the fourth music director in the Company’s 99-year history.

San Francisco Opera Tad and Dianne Taube General Director Matthew Shilvock said: “Opera gives us opportunities to gather and share in deep, collective, emotional expression. I have never felt more urgently the need for us to gather in this way. We need to be together again, and, on August 21, we will raise the curtain and do just that. But we are not returning unchanged. We emerge with a new music director in Eun Sun Kim! We emerge informed by the bold experiments of the last year, carrying them forward with our new livestreaming program. And we emerge with an even deeper understanding of the power of opera to connect us after the long winter of its absence.

“That all of our productions this season will be new or recently new to our stage is a testament to the local artisans who built them and to the local community which has supported this Company so magnificently during this year. We will return to the social history of the Mozart-Da Ponte Trilogy, be welcomed back into the light of liberation with Beethoven’s Fidelio and enter into the great story of imperial China in Dream of the Red Chamber. But first we return to Tosca—the time-honored way that San Francisco Opera reopens, recommits to our community and reemerges with all of the thrilling energy of live grand opera. It is a moment I cannot wait to share.”

Filed under: music news, San Francisco Opera

Rossini at the Drive-In, as San Francisco Opera Returns

Photo: Stefan Cohen/San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera is presenting a fully staged opera before a live audience for the first time in 16 months. I wrote about the opening for The New York Times.

SAN FRANCISCO — It feels almost too good to be true after a pandemic closure of Wagnerian scale: an audience watching a cast of singers enter the War Memorial Opera House here to rehearse and perform Rossini’s classic comedy “The Barber of Seville”….

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Filed under: New York Times, Rossini, San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera Announces 2020-21 Season

fidelio

Season 98 at San Francisco Opera has been announced.

The lineup includes: Fidelio, Rigoletto, Così fan tutte, The Handmaid’s Tale by Poul Ruders, La bohème, The Barber of Seville, and Alexander Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg (“The Dwarf”). Lianna Haroutounian and Iréne Theorin will also appear in a concert titled A Celebration of Verdi and Wagner.

Immediately of note is the shift of the customary summer season to April and May (a consequence of renovations that will be taking place in the War Memorial Opera House). And there are now concerts for the traditional season opening as well as the third summer (now spring) season opera.

This season will be the first under new music director, Eun Sun Kim. But there are too many safe and predictable choices. I’m especially glad to see the Ruders (I reviewed the North American premiere of The Handmaid’s Tale at Minnesota Opera 17 years ago) and the gorgeous, heartbreaking, neglected Zemlinsky (which I reviewed just last year in Berlin)–though not sure how that will work as the sole offering.

Here’s the press release.

Complete 2020-21 Season listing:

FALL 2020

OPENING NIGHT CELEBRATION CONCERT with soprano Albina Shagimuratova and tenor Pene Pati; Eun Sun Kim conducts the San Francisco Opera Orchestra September 11, 2020 (8 pm)

FIDELIO by Ludwig van Beethoven NEW SAN FRANCISCO OPERA PRODUCTION September 12 (7:30 pm), 15 (7:30 pm), 18 (7:30 pm), 23 (7:30 pm), 27 (2 pm), October 1 (7:30 pm), 2020

RIGOLETTO by Giuseppe Verdi September 13 (2 pm), 16 (7:30 pm), 19 (7:30 pm), 22 (7:30 pm), 26 (7:30 pm), October 2 (7:30 pm), 4 (2 pm), 2020

COSÌ FAN TUTTEby Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart NEW SAN FRANCISCO OPERA PRODUCTION October 6 (7:30 pm), 11 (2 pm), 14 (7:30 pm), 17 (7:30 pm), 23 (7:30 pm), 28 (7:30 pm), 2020

THE HANDMAID’S TALE by Poul Ruders WEST COAST PREMIERE October 29 (7:30 pm), November 1 (2 pm), 11 (7:30 pm), 14 (7:30 pm), 17 (7:30 pm), 20 (7:30 pm), 22 (2 pm), 2020

LA BOHÈME by Giacomo Puccini November 15 (2 pm), 18 (7:30 pm), 21 (7:30 pm), 24 (7:30 pm), 28 (7:30 pm), 29 (2 pm), December 2 (7:30 pm), 3 (7:30 pm), 4 (7:30 pm), 5 (7:30 pm), 6 (2 pm), 2020

SPRING 2021
THE BARBER OF SEVILLE (IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA) by Gioachino Rossini
April 25 (2 pm), 28 (7:30 pm); May 1 (7:30 pm), 4 (7:30 pm), 7 (7:30 pm), 11 (7:30 pm), 14 (7:30 pm), 16 (2 pm), 2021

DER ZWERG by Alexander Zemlinsky COMPANY PREMIERE April 27 (7:30 pm), 30 (7:30 pm), May 5 (7:30 pm), 9 (2 pm), 15 (7:30 pm), 2021

LIANNA HAROUTOUNIAN & IRÉNE THEORIN IN CONCERT May 2 (2 pm), 6 (7:30 pm), 8 (7:30 pm), 2021
Henrik Nánási, conductor

Filed under: music news, San Francisco Opera

Opera in San Francisco

H&G-SFO-1

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…

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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….

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Part 1 here

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

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