MTT & San Francisco Symphony celebrate the unifying power of music

Michael Tilson Thomas and Audrey Hepburn at the premiere performance of ‘From the Diary of Anne Frank’ 1990 – Photo courtesy San Francisco Symphony

San Francisco Symphony Music Director, Michael Tilson Thomas, leads the Symphony this week in a program both poignant and celebratory, the first of two programs marking the 70th anniversary of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There are two works in this first program – a narration of extracts from The Diary of Anne Frank which MTT set to a piece of music written for his friend and UNICEF ambassador, Audrey Hepburn – narrated by guest artist Isabel Leonard – followed by Beethoven’s grand and heroic Symphony No 3, Eroica.

The purpose of these performances is to shine a light on the power of music as a vehicle for unity, compassion, healing, teaching and social justice – ending with the triumphal ring of liberty.

From the Diary of Anne Frank is a dramatic work for narrator and orchestra, commissioned by UNICEF, and based on the diary kept by the young Anne Frank whilst she was in hiding at the time of the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during the Second World War. Michael Tilson Thomas wrote the work for Audrey Hepburn, an ambassador for UNICEF at the time, who not only was the same age as Anne Frank, but also grew up in occupied Holland. “I now realize,” says Tilson Thomas, “that so much of this work is a reflection not just of Anne Frank, but of Audrey Hepburn. Audrey’s simplicity, her deeply caring nature, the ingenuous sing-song of her voice are all present in the phrase shapes of the orchestra. The work would never have existed without her, and it is dedicated to her.”

The work was premiered in 1990 by the New World Symphony, led by Michael Tilson Thomas, and narrated by Audrey Hepburn.
Taking that role this week is American soprano Isabel Leonard, who appeared as a guest of the San Francisco Symphony in September 2017 during the celebration of the Leonard Bernstein Centennial, and featured on the Symphony’s digital release of Bernstein’s Arias and Barcarolles. Ms Leonard – who won a Grammy Award in the Best Opera Recording category for her performance in Thomas Ades’ The Tempest – was also the recipient of the 2013 Richard Tucker Award.

With a repertoire ranging from Vivaldi to Mozart to Ades, Isabel Leonard has appeared on the stages of the Metropolitan Opera, Vienna State Opera, Paris Opera, Salzburg Festival, Bavarian State Opera, Glyndebourne Festival, Lyric Opera of Chicago and San Francisco Opera, and with orchestras such as the Cleveland Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, and Vienna Philharmonic.

Soprano Isabel Leonard – Photo © Becca Fay – courtesy San Francisco Symphony

The second work on the program is Beethoven’s dramatic and uplifting Eroica Symphony, originally inspired by the efforts of Napoleon to bring about social reform for the benefit of the working classes. However, when Napoleon declared himself the Emperor of France, Beethoven was filled with disgust at what he viewed as the act of a tyrant, and is said to have scratched out the name of Napoleon from the front page of the score, replacing it with a sub-title that referred more generally to heroism rather than the deeds of any person in particular.

Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony, with guest narrator Isabel Leonard, in his own work, From the Diary of Anne Frank, and Beethoven’s Symphony No 3. The performances take place at Davies Symphony Hall, and further information about the program and tickets is available on the San Francisco Symphony website.

Michael Tilson Thomas and Audrey Hepburn at a rehearsal for the 1990 premiere of ‘From the Diary of Anne Frank’ – courtesy San Francisco Symphony

The second in this set of concerts celebrating the signing of the Declaration of Human Rights takes place at Davies Symphony Hall next week – November 23rd to 25th. Michael Tilson Thomas again leads the San Francisco Symphony, in performances of Beethoven’s Symphony No 9, with Ragnar Bohlin’s San Francisco Symphony Chorus, and guest soloists Susanna Phillips (soprano), mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor, tenor Nicholas Phan and bass-baritone Davóne Tines.

The program also features Berg’s Seven Early Songs, with Susanna Phillips as soloist, a performance which will be recorded live for future release on SFS Media.  For tickets and more information visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

The concerts both this week and next are dedicated to the memory of the victims of the tragic events which took place in Pittsburgh on October 27th this year.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Symphony program notes

Isabel Leonard


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Bolshoi Ballet’s ‘La Sylphide’ to be screened worldwide

The Bolshoi’s Anastasia Stashkevic in the title role of ‘La Sylphide’ – Photo courtesy Bolshoi Ballet

La Sylphide – one of the world’s oldest surviving ballets – opens the new Bolshoi in Cinema season this weekend, with a screening of Johan Kobborg’s highly acclaimed staging of this romantic work, which has become synonymous with the name of Danish ballet master August Bournonville.

The original version of La Sylphide was premiered in Paris in 1832, a production by Filippo Taglioni, in which his daughter, Marie, danced the lead – the first time that an entire ballet was danced en pointe. Bournonville saw a production of the ballet, and decided to stage his own interpretation of it for his company, the Royal Danish Ballet. This production was first seen in Copenhagen in 1836 – set to a commissioned score by Herman Lovenskjold – and is the version of La Sylphide which has been handed down through the years, and is still being performed today.

Based on a libretto by Adolphe Nourrit and Filippo Taglioni, the ballet is set in a Scottish manor house, and opens on the eve of James’s marriage to Effie. He’s dozing by the fireside when he is woken by a Sylph who kisses him on the forehead. Enchanted by this beautiful winged creature, he tries to capture her, but she vanishes up the chimney. A group of local people arrives to start celebrations for the wedding, amongst whom is James’s rival, Gurn, who is also in love with Effie, and who suspects by James’s behavior that he has become infatuated with another.

Photo: Anna Shakina

James is preoccupied by his encounter with the Sylph throughout the wedding preparations, and Gurn takes this opportunity to woo Effie. On the morning of the wedding, the Sylph appears to James again, and entices him into the forest, where he again tries to capture her. Ultimately he manages to throw a veil – provided by a mischief-making old woman, Madge – around the Sylph’s shoulders, and he kisses her, but his embrace is fatal, the Sylph loses her wings and dies. By this time, Gurn has persuaded Effie to marry him, and as James stands alone in the forest, he listens forlornly to what should be the celebration of his own wedding taking place in the distance.

Dancer, choreographer and artistic director, Johan Kobborg is well placed to stage this production of La Sylphide for the Bolshoi Ballet. Not only is he one of the world’s leading interpreters of the role of James, but as one of the Royal Danish Ballet’s finest dancers he has performed in almost every ballet which Bournonville created for the company. Also a former Principal of The Royal Ballet, Kobborg was invited to stage a new version of La Sylphide for the Company in 2008, and such was the success of the production, that it led to the invitation from the Bolshoi for Kobborg to stage it for them as well.

The role of the Sylph in this production is performed by Bolshoi principal dancer Anastasia Stashkevich, a graduate of the Moscow State Choreographic Academy. Later this month, Ms Stashkevich will be seen in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s The Taming of the Shrew (which he choreographed for the Bolshoi) and in John Neumeier’s Lady of the Camellias.

Photo: Damir Yusupov

Semyon Chudin, who dances the role of James in this production, graduated from the Novosibirsk Choreographic College, and danced with the Universal Ballet Company in Seoul, Republic of Korea, before joining the Bolshoi Ballet, where he is now a principal dancer. Mr Chudin will also be performing in The Taming of the Shrew later this month.

The Bolshoi Orchestra in this performance is conducted by Alexei Bogorad, a resident conductor of the Company. Maestro Bogorad is a former principal clarinetist of the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra, and soloist of the Russian National Orchestra. Chosen by Vladimir Jurowski as his assistant at the State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia (Svetlanov Symphony Orchestra), Alexei Bogorad has also conducted major Russian orchestras such as the Russian National Orchestra, National Philharmonic of Russia, the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra, the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra. In this cinema season, he will also be leading the Bolshoi Orchestra in performances of Raymonda and The Nutcracker.

The original choreography of La Sylphide is by August Bournonville, new choreography is by Johan Kobborg, the Designer is Peter Farmer, Pavel Klinichev is Music Director, and Damir Ismagilov is the Lighting Designer.

The Bolshoi Ballet’s production of La Sylphide can be seen in cinemas worldwide on Sunday, November 11th. Details of screenings, and information on tickets, can be found by visiting the Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema website.

Information sourced from:

Bolshoi Ballet

Johan Kobborg

Anastasia Stashkevic

Semyon Chudin

Alexei Bogorad

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Hrůša leads San Francisco Symphony in works by Shostakovich, Borodin & Bartók

Czech conductor Jakub Hrůša leads the San Francisco Symphony this week Photo: Courtesy IMG Artists

One might be forgiven for thinking of Bartók and Shostakovich as two of the bad boys of 20th century classical music, since each of their works featured in this week’s San Francisco Symphony concerts was initially either banned (in the case of Bartók’s The Miraculous Mandarin) or held back from publication (in the case of the Shostakovich Violin Concerto No 1).  Not so, however, because even though both were pushing the boundaries of what was deemed acceptable in their respective countries at the time of writing, with the passage of time, they’re both regarded as two of the most significant composers of the last century.  Jakub Hrůša leads the San Francisco Symphony in a program of these works, together with Borodin’s lively and passionate Symphony No 2. The guest artist in the Shostakovich Violin Concerto is Karen Gomyo.

Czech-born Jakub Hrůša is Chief Conductor of the Bamberg Symphony, Principal Guest Conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra, Principal Guest Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, and Principal Guest Conductor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra. Having made his debut with the San Francisco Symphony in October last year, he has since appeared with the Prague Philharmonic, made his debut with the Munich Philharmonic, returned to the Opera National de Paris with Lehár’s The Merry Widow, and made his debut at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, with Bizet’s Carmen.

This season, Maestro Hrůša – described by Classical Iconoclast as “one of the most exciting conductors around” – will make debuts with the Berlin Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio Symphony, Orchestre de Paris and the NHK Symphony.

Violinist Karen Gomyo – Photo: Gabrielle Revere – Courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Violinist Karen Gomyo – described by the Chicago Tribune as “A first-rate artist of rare musical command, vitality, brilliance and intensity” – was born in Tokyo, began her musical career in Montréal and New York, and has now made Berlin her home. On the North American continent, in addition to the San Francisco Symphony, she has appeared with the Houston, Oregon, Minnesota, St Louis, Vancouver and Dallas symphony orchestras. In Europe, performances include appearances with the WDR Sinfonieorchester in Köln, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Bamberg Symphony, the Danish National Symphony, Orchestre Symphonique de Radio France, the Stuttgart Radio Symphony, Vienna Chamber Orchestra, and the Polish National Radio Orchestra.

In May this year, Karen Gomyo was highly praised for her performance of the world premiere of Samuel Adams’ new Chamber Concerto, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra led by Esa-Pekka Salonen. The work was written for her and commissioned by the CSO to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its MusicNow series. In 2019, Ms Gromyo will open the Dubai Proms with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Ben Gernon, and make debut performances with the Philharmonia Orchestra with Jakub Hrůša, and the Royal Northern Sinfonia with Karina Canellakis.

Dmitry Shostakovich started working on his First Violin Concerto – described by Warner Classics as “sardonic and challenging” – in early 1948, a time when he was being denounced by the Soviet authorities for his perceived “counter revolutionary” sympathies. His great friend and contemporary, violinist David Oistrakh, was doubtless the inspiration for this concerto, and even though Oistrakh played it privately and apparently made a recording of it at home, Shostakovich decided that it was too risky to publish the work, so he hid it in a desk drawer for seven years. It wasn’t until 1955 – two years after the death of Stalin – that Oistrakh premiered the work, with Yevgeny Mravinsky leading the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, at the Leningrad Philharmonic Hall, on October 29th of that year. The composer couldn’t, however, resist making a point – he very deliberately made sure that the date on which the work had been composed was made public.

It might not be widely known, but Alexander Borodin devoted a significant amount of his time as a scientist to ensuring that women were given access to courses in chemistry – and this was one of the reasons that the piano version of his Second Symphony, which he started composing in 1869, took six years to complete. The orchestral version wasn’t performed until two years after that, and even then, after an unsuccessful premiere, the work was revised in 1879.

Jakub Hrůša – Photo: Zbynek Maderyc

Even so, Borodin’s Symphony No 2 is today regarded as his most popular, and also the most successful of any works written by the group of Russian composers known at The Five or the Mighty Handful, which he joined in the 1860s. The members of this group – Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, César Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, Mili Balakirev and Borodin – were dedicated to promoting music that was decidedly Russian in character – and Borodin’s symphony most certainly does that. From the opening notes, it couldn’t be anything else.

Béla Bartók’s suite from his one-act pantomime ballet The Miraculous Mandarin was composed between 1918 and 1919, and orchestrated in 1923. Based on a story by Melchior Lengyel, which BBC Music describes as “a nasty little tale of urban depravity”, it tells of three thugs who use a beautiful prostitute to attract a succession of men into a tavern, whom they attack with a view to robbing them. The menacing score was apparently described by the composer as “hellish”.  The production was premiered in Cologne on November 27th, 1926, and caused such a scandal that it was banned on the grounds of morality – or lack thereof – and wasn’t seen again during the composer’s lifetime.

Bartók – who is quoted as saying in an interview that “people had [only] read the plot and decided it was objectionable” – nevertheless worked the first six sections of the score into a suite in 1927, which premiered in Budapest on October 15, 1928, with Ernst von Dohnányi leading the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra.

Jakub Hrůša leads the San Francisco Symphony and guest violinist Karen Gomyo in a program of music by Shostakovich, Borodin and Bartók, at Davies Symphony Hall from November 8th to 10. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Symphony program notes

Artists’ websites:
Jakub Hrůša
Karen Gomyo

Shostakovich Violin Concerto No 1

Borodin Symphony No 2

The Miraculous Mandarin:
Naxos Records


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Cristian Măcelaru and Ray Chen guest with San Francisco Symphony

Romanian conductor Cristian Măcelaru in rehearsal – Photo: Sorin Popa courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Romanian conductor Cristian Măcelaru takes up the baton at Davies Symphony Hall this week to lead the San Francisco Symphony and violin virtuoso Ray Chen in a performance of Édouard Lalo’s vibrant and tuneful Symphonie espagnole. The program also includes Richard Strauss’ lovely suite from Der Rosenkavalier, and two works which will be heard here for the first time – an orchestral work entitled Masquerade by Anna Clyne, and the World Premiere of the Suite from Kevin Puts’ opera Silent Night.

Cristian Măcelaru – Music Director of The Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music since August 2017 – becomes the new Chief Conductor of the WDR Sinfonieorchester in Cologne next September. Described by The Herald in Scotland as having “… presence without being showy” and “…. a fine sense of sweep and structure”, Maestro Măcelaru first attracted international attention in 2012, when he stepped in for Pierre Boulez to lead the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He was awarded the Sir Georg Solti Award for young conductors that same year, and in 2014 was honored with the Solti Conducting Award.

Enjoying a particularly close collaboration with the Philadelphia Orchestra, where he was Conductor in Residence for three years, Cristian Măcelaru has also guested for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the New York and Los Angeles philharmonics, the Cleveland Orchestra, and now the San Francisco Symphony. In Europe, he has led the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunk, Royal Concertgebouw, Dresden Staatskapelle, Leipzig Gewandhausorchester, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra.

Among the highlights of Maestro Măcelaru’s 2018-2019 season are his celebration of Romania’s centennial, bringing the National Symphony Orchestra of Romania on their first-ever visit to the United States – a 7-city tour which culminates at New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center in performances with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.

Very much a 21st century musician with his huge online following, Ray Chen has what The Huffington Post described as “…. the kind of liquid tone that carries with it emotional depth of great intimacy”. His international career took off when he won the Yehudi Menuhin Competition in Cardiff in 2008, following which he was invited by Russian violinist Maxim Vengerov to appear with the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra in St Petersburg.

Ray Chen also won the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels in 2009, and since then has made a name for himself across Europe, Asia, the USA and Australia, appearing with ensembles such as the Royal Flemish Philharmonic, and the Orchestra Philharmonique du Luxembourg, the Taipei Symphony, Orchestre National de Lille, Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestra Filarmonica della Scala, Münchner Philharmoniker, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and National Orchestra of Spain .

Labelled as “one to watch” by The Strad and Gramophone magazines, Ray Chen has featured in the Forbes list of the 30 most influential Asians under 30, appeared in the TV series Mozart in the Jungle, and performed at events such as the 2012 Nobel Prize Concert in Stockholm – which was telecast across Europe – the 2015 Bastille Day Concert de Paris, and at BBC Proms concerts in 2016 and 2018.

Violinist Ray Chen – Photo: John Mac courtesy San Francisco Symphony

French composer Édouard Lalo wrote his Symphonie espagnole for the brilliant Spanish violinist Pable de Sarasate, in a tribute to both Sarasate’s nationality and is own Spanish heritage. Although the work has elements of a symphony about it, it’s really a suite of five movements which Sarasate played for the first time in Paris, on February 7th, 1875 – a time at which Spanish-style music was much in fashion, due to the popularity of Bizet’s opera Carmen.  It’s a delightful work, melodic and passionate – a perfect vehicle for Chen’s impressive talent.

This week’s concerts open with Masquerade by London-born Anna Clyne, a Grammy-nominated composer of acoustic and electro-acoustic music, described by The New York Times as a “composer of uncommon gifts and unusual methods”. Her work often includes collaborations with choreographers, visual artists, filmmakers and musicians worldwide. Masquerade was commissioned by the BBC, and first performed at the 2013 Last Night of the Proms by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under conductor Marin Alsop.

Composer Kevin Puts – Photo: David White courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Kevin Puts’ opera, Silent Night, with a libretto by Mark Campbell, was based on the 2005 film Joyeux Noel. It was premiered by Minnesota Opera in November 2011, won the composer the 2012 Pulitzer Prize, and has been described by The New York Times as “exhilarating and compelling”. A multi-award-winning composer, Puts already has two operas, four symphonies and several concertos in his portfolio, works which have been commissioned, performed and recorded by leading orchestras, ensembles and soloists around the globe. The orchestral Suite from the opera, which has its World Premiere in these concerts, was commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony and co-commissioned by the Indianapolis and St Louis Symphonies.

The program ends with another orchestral Suite from an opera – this one from Richard Strauss’ much-loved work, Der Rosenkavalier. Despite the popularity of the opera, Strauss was apparently not keen on creating a suite from the score, but in 1924, his librettist, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who was involved in plans to make a film of Der Rosenkavalier, persuaded Strauss to provide a score for the film, using music from the opera. Unwilling to take on a new project, Strauss allowed Otto Singer and Karl Alwin to arrange the music for the film, paving the way for other sanctioned arrangements – as well as some which weren’t. In 1934 and 1944 Strauss himself arranged his own version of the waltz sequences from the score, but the best-known suite was made by an anonymous arranger, which Strauss eventually approved in 1945, and it’s this interpretation that the Symphony plays at this week’s performances.

Cristian Măcelaru leads the San Francisco Symphony, with guest artist Ray Chen, in music by Édouard Lalo, Richard Strauss, Anna Clyne and Kevin Puts, at Davies Symphony Hall from October 25th to 27th. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.


Information sourced from:

San Francisco Symphony program notes

Cristian Măcelaru

Ray Chen

Anna Clyne



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Marc Albrecht makes US debut in San Francisco Opera’s ‘Arabella’ 

Act II of Strauss’ ‘Arabella’ with Ellie Dehn in the title role (center) Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

German conductor, Marc Albrecht, noted interpreter of Strauss operas, leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, Chorus and cast, in his debut performance in the United States this week, directing the Company’s new production of Richard Strauss’ romantic opera, Arabella.

This tale of love, mistaken identity and near-catastrophe, stars soprano Ellie Dehn in her role debut as Arabella, the beautiful girl whom it is hoped will marry well and save her family from poverty. Soprano Heidi Stober is her sister Zdenka, forced to take on the identity of a brother in order to help the family finances, and Swedish tenor Daniel Johansson – in his Company debut – is Matteo, the object of Zdenka’s desire. Baritone Brian Mulligan makes his role debut as Count Mandryka.

Chief Conductor of the Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam, the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra and the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra, Marc Albrecht is highly regarded as a conductor of the late Romantic German and Austrian repertoire, yet he also covers the entire spectrum from Mozart to contemporary music. Maestro Albrecht is a regular collaborator with Milan’s Teatro alla Scala and Deutsche Oper Berlin, and has led most of Strauss’ stage works in Dresden, where more than half of the Strauss operas were premiered. Albrecht’s engagements for this 2018/19 season include appearances at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and the Hessische Staatstheater in Wiesbaden.

Ellie Dehn as Arabella and Brian Mulligan as Mandryka in Strauss’ ‘Arabella’ Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Production of Arabella is by English stage director, Tim Albery, making his San Francisco Opera debut, who updates this Viennese love story from 1860 to the period just before World War I. Albery’s international work includes Berlioz’s Les Troyens and Wagner’s Tannhäuser for Lyric Opera of Chicago, Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Lehár’s The Merry Widow for Metropolitan Opera, Verdi’s Don Carlo for Washington National Opera / Opera Philadelphia,  Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra and Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos for Bavarian State Opera, Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini for Netherlands Opera, and Catalani’s La Wally for the Bregenz Festival.

Arabella represents the final collaboration between Richard Strauss and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who together produced a number of operas between during the first part of the 20th century. The most successful of these were Elektra in 1909, Der Rosenkavalier in 1911 and Die Frau one Schatten in 1910. Towards the end of the 1920s, Strauss was keen to repeat the formula, urging von Hofmannsthal to collaborate with him on “a second Rosenkavalier”, and although a degree of tension had existed between the two artists for a number of years prior to this, von Hofmannsthal nevertheless complied with Strauss’s request and started work on a libretto for Arabella in 1929.

Heidi Stober as Zdenka and Ellie Dehn in the title role of Strauss’ ‘Arabella’ Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

By July, the first act had been completed, and the following two had been provisionally set, but the librettist died suddenly that month, and Strauss was so deeply affected by the loss of his friend and collaborator, that he put the work aside, and didn’t return to it until 1932, leaving the second and third acts as von Hofmannsthal had left them. Arabella premiered at Semperoper in Dresden in 1933.

The story of Arabella revolves around the need of the heroine’s family for her to marry a wealthy man. Nevertheless, she longs for true love, convinced that she’ll know when the right man comes along. Arabella’s father invites his old friend Count Mandryka to visit Vienna, in the hope that a match can be made with Arabella. To the father’s surprise, however, the man who arrives is the old Count’s nephew, who has inherited his uncle’s wealth and title following his death. Arabella does indeed fall for the young Count, as he does for her, but a case of mistaken identity – involving a plot by Zdenka to gain the attentions of the young officer Matteo – almost destroys Arabella’s chances. For a time it appears as though her hopes of love will be dashed, but finally her sister confesses, and amidst her apologies and explanations, the mystery is finally unraveled.

Korean soprano Hye Jung Lee, in a role debut, is the Fiakermilli, Count Waldner is sung by baritone Richard Paul Fink, and mezzo-soprano Michaela Martens is Adelaide. Tenor Scott Quinn takes the role of Count Elemer, Andrew Manea is Count Dominik, Christian Pursell is Count Lamoral (both are current Adler Fellows) and mezzo-soprano Jill Grove is the Fortune-Teller.

Act II of Strauss’ ‘Arabella’ Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Sets and costumes are by production designer Tobias Hoheisel and the lighting designer is David Finn.

Marc Albrecht leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, Chorus (director Ian Robertson) and cast in this co-production with Santa Fe Opera, Minnesota Opera and Canadian Opera Company.

Arabella – sung in German with English supertitles – runs from October 16th to November 3rd at the War Memorial Opera House. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Opera website.


Information sourced from:

San Francisco Opera program notes


Artists’ websites:

Marc Albrecht

Tim Albery

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Honeck leads San Francisco Symphony and Truls Mørk

Austrian conductor Manfred Honeck – Photo: Felix Broede

Returning from a highly successful East Coast tour, the San Francisco Symphony resumes its Davies Symphony Hall schedule this week under the baton of Austrian conductor Manfred Honeck. Maestro Honeck will conduct a two-work program of music by Prokofiev and Dvořák – Prokofiev’s Sinfonia concertante, and the Symphony No 8 by Antonin Dvořák. The guest soloist is virtuoso Norwegian cellist Truls Mørk.

Manfred Honeck – of whom the New York Classical Review wrote: “…. when he conducts, he seems to cherish every note of the score, and communicates his deep understanding of the music to the audience” – was last seen leading the San Francisco Symphony in May, 2017, his first appearance with the orchestra. He has held the position of Music Director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra since the 2008/2009 season, and has led the Pittsburgh Symphony on a number of tours of European capitals, as well as appearing at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New York.

Maestro Honeck and the orchestra have performed at some of the world’s leading festivals, including the BBC Proms, Musikfest Berlin, the Lucerne Festival, Rheingau Musik Festival, Beethovenfest Bonn and Grafenegg Festival, and also have a close relationship with the Musikverein in Vienna. Among the impressive number of recordings that conductor and orchestra have made together was their interpretation of the Shostakovich Symphony No 5 which won the 2018 Grammy Award for ‘Best Orchestral Performance’.

Norwegian cello virtuoso Truls Mørk – Photo: Johs Boe

Following his highly acclaimed performance of the Esa-Pekka Salonen Cello Concerto at this year’s Baltic Sea Festival, cellist Truls Mørk – who has Gramophone, Grammy, Midem and ECHO Klassik awards to his credit – has an exciting season lined up after this week’s debut performance in San Francisco. He will again perform the Salonen Concerto – led by the composer – with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London, and on tour in the United States at venues which include the Lincoln Center in New York, and at CAL Performances in Berkeley.

Other engagements include appearances with the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, Bayerisches Staatsoper, NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester, Orchestre symphonique de Montréal and Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich. Mørk will also continue his recital program with Uzbekistani pianist Behzod Abduraimov in the US and Europe – a partnership described by The Washington Classical Review as “an exquisite team”, adding: “Sometimes two musicians form a partnership that is even greater than the sum of its parts”.

Truls Mørk – Photo: Johs Boe

The Prokofiev Sinfonia concertante which Truls Mørk will perform this week, is a reworking of the Cello Concerto in E minor, Op 58 which Prokofiev wrote between 1933 – 1938. Having heard Mstislav Rostropovic play the work in 1947, the composer realized how dissatisfied he was with it, and – although it took nearly three years to complete – the revision was completed. It’s largely regarded as an improvement on the original work, although it’s also considered to be one of the most difficult in the entire cello concerto repertoire.

The final work in the program is the Dvořák Symphony No 8. The composer wrote most of the work while at his summer residence in Vysoka – about 50 km southwest of the city of Prague – to which he returned to enjoy the peace and quiet which it afforded him – and most particularly the close contact with nature which he always loved. His joy at being in this rural environment is reflected in his Symphony No 8, as is his love of Czech and Slavonic folk music, all of which produced a work with some lovely lyrical passages. It was premiered at Prague’s Rudolfinum on February 2nd, 1890, with Dvořák conducting, as he did at the Symphony’s first performance in London, on April 24th that same year in a concert hosted by the Philharmonic Society in St James’ Hall. It was enthusiastically received at both performances.

Manfred Honeck – Photo: Felix Broede

Manfred Honeck leads the San Francisco Symphony in works by Prokofiev and Dvořák, with guest artist Truly Mørk, at Davies Symphony Hall from October 11th to 13th. For tickets and further information, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Symphony program notes

Artists’ websites:

Manfred Honeck

Truls Mørk

Prokofiev Symphony concertanteAllMusic

Dvořák Symphony No 8


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New Production of Puccini’s ‘Tosca’ for San Francisco Opera

Scene from Act I of Puccini’s ‘Tosca’ – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Opening at the War Memorial Opera House this week, San Francisco Opera’s new production of Tosca stars Italian soprano Carmen Giannattasio in the title role, with tenor Brian Jagde as Cavaradossi, and baritone Scott Hendricks as Baron Scarpia.

British conductor Leo Hussain – formerly music director of Opéra de Rouen and Salzburg Landestheater – makes his first appearance for San Francisco Opera, and staging is by American director Shawna Lucey who was responsible for last season’s highly successful production of Verdi’s La Traviata. Sets and costumes are by Robin Innes Hopkins, who has previously worked with the Company on Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen in 2004, Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri in 2005 and Wagner’s Lohengrin in 2012. Lighting is by Michael James Clark, and the fight director is Dave Maier.

Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca – written in 1899 – was based on Victorien Sardou’s 1887 play, La Tosca, which featured the actress Sarah Bernhard in the title role.  Set to a libretto by Luigi Illica and Guiseppe Giacosa, this historical melodrama of love, lust, treachery and corruption takes place in 1800, when control of Rome by the Kingdom of Naples was threatened by Napoleon’s invasion of Italy. It recounts the story of artist Mario Cavaradossi and the woman he loves, singer Floria Tosca, as they try to evade the corruption which was rife in the city of Rome at that time. Tosca premiered at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome on January 14th, 1900.

Carmen Giannattasio as Tosca and Brian Jagde as Cavaradossi in Puccini’s ‘Tosca’ Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Carmen Giannattasio is regarded as one of the finest exponents of bel canto opera today, with a repertoire which includes works by Verdi, Puccini, Leoncavallo, Bellini, Rossini and Donizetti. She makes her San Francisco Opera role and house debuts in this production – her first US performance since appearing at the Metropolitan Opera in La Traviata in 2017 – a performance described by Opera Wire as “sensational”.

Ms Giannattasio won first prize at the 2002 Plácido Domingo Operalia Competition, and having initially appeared in most of the major opera houses across Europe, she has since appeared in some of the great companies in other cities of the world – The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the Bolshoi Theatre Opera, and the Metropolitan Opera. Performances scheduled for this season include the title roles in Maria Stuarda at the Théâtre Champs-Elysées, and Norma at Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, and she will also be appearing in Don Carlo at Opera de Las Palmas, Giovanna D’Arco at Teatro Real de Madrid and in Ermione at Teatro di San Carlo in Naples.

Brian Jagde as Cavaradossi and Hadleigh Adams as Angelotti in Puccini’s ‘Tosca’ Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Brian Jagde, Merola Opera Program alumnus and San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow, is now regarded as one of the leading tenors of his generation, having appeared to great acclaim at London’s Royal Opera House, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Munich’s Bavarian State Opera, Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre and the Arena di Verona. According to a review in of Das Wunder der Heliane at Deutsche Oper Berlin, which appeared in, Brian Jagde “projected his golden, flowing, and warm voice over the massive orchestra. It was very understandable why Heliane falls for his charisma”.  This year alone has seen Brian Jagde appear as Cavarodossi in the Teatro di San Carlo production of Tosca, as Don Jose in a new staging of Carmen at the Arena di Verona, as well as his Russian debut in the same role in the Bolshoi’s production of Carmen.

Carmen Giannattasio as Tosca and Scott Hendricks as Scarpia in Puccini’s ‘Tosca’ Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Scarpia, the corrupt chief of police in Tosca, is sung by American baritone Scott Hendricks, who has received acclaim for his portrayal of this role in appearances at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the Opéra National de Paris, the Bregenz Festival and Munich’s Bavarian State Opera. Future engagements this season include the role of Barnaba in Ponchielli’s La Gioconda, and Victor Frankenstein in the world premiere of Mark Grey’s Frankenstein (both for La Monnaie), and the murderer in the world premiere of Moritz Eggert’s M – Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder for Komische Oper Berlin.

Also in the cast of Tosca are bass-baritone Dale Travis in the role of the Sacristan, tenor Joel Sorensen is Spoletta, baritone Hadleigh Adams sings Angelotti, baritone Andrew Manea is Sciarrone and bass-baritone Christian Pursell is the Jailer.

Carmen Giannattasio in the title role of Puccini’s ‘Tosca’ Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Tosca has a special place in the history of San Francisco Opera. It featured in the Company’s inaugural season at the Civic Auditorium in 1923, and it opened the first season in San Francisco Opera’s new home, the War Memorial Opera House, on October 15th, 1932.

Leo Hussain leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, Chorus (Director Ian Robertson) and cast in Puccini’s Tosca at the War Memorial Opera House. Sung in Italian with English supertitles, Tosca runs for eight more performances until October 30th. For further information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Opera website.


Information sourced from:

San Francisco Opera program notes

Opera Wire

Artists’ websites:

Brian Jagde

Scott Hendricks

San Francisco Playhouse opens new season with Sandbox Series World Premiere

Charisse Loriaux, Cassidy Brown, Jomar Tagatac and Katie Rubin in ‘You Mena To Do Me Harm’ at the San Francisco Playhouse

The 2018-19 season at San Francisco Playhouse opens this week, with a play which had its World Premiere last season in the Playhouse Sandbox Series – its new works program. Christopher Chen’s You Mean To Do Me Harm proved during this run that it had what it takes to move to Mainstage at the Playhouse, delivering the Bay Area playwright’s dream of having a play produced there.

Chen’s plays, according to his website, “… examine the hidden patterns beneath complex systems: socio-political systems, psychological systems, systems of power”. A multi-award-winning playwright, he has had his works performed across the United States, as well as abroad, and among his impressively long list of successes is Caught, which won a 2017 Obie Award for Playwriting, a Drama League Nomination for Outstanding production of a Broadway or Off-Broadway Play in 2015, a Barrymore Award for Outstanding New Play the same year, and a PHINDIE 2014/2015 Critic’s Award for Best New Play. It was named One of the Top Ten Plays of 2016 by TheaterMania, New York City Theater, Theater Dogs and Seattle’s The Stranger.

Daniel bristles at a remark by Ken

Directed by Bill English, You Mean To Do Me Harm revolves around the consequences of an innocuous comment made during a dinner between two interracial couples, opening a Pandora’s box of “Cold War-style paranoia” – raising issues such as Chinese and American foreign relations, the ways in which our lives are affected by our cultural characteristics, and the fragility of personal relations which are the most important to us. Chen describes it as a “…. personal play about the Asian American experience…” and is said to be thrilled that it’s now being given the opportunity to reach a wider audience.

It’s been described as a “… lean, mean, and meticulously crafted drama…” by Huffington Post, as “witty and suspenseful” by the San Francisco Examiner, and “Masterful” by Theater Dogs. Bill English himself says that as the play develops, “….. our grip on what is real and what is imagined starts to slip, as does that of our protagonist, Daniel. Is he being paranoid or victimized by subtle racism? Does he just have an overactive imagination, or are the subtle comments of his wife and friends taking aim at his identity?”

The tension starts to mount

Of the cast who appeared in the Sandbox Series production of You Mean To Do Me Harm, three members are new – Cassidy Brown, Katie Rubin and Jomar Tagatac. Charisse Loriaux appears again in the role she played in the original.

Christopher Chen’s You Mean To Do Me Harm opened at the San Francisco Playhouse on September 18th, and runs until November 3rd. For more information and tickets, contact the box office on 415-677-9596, or visit the San Francisco Playhouse website.

Daniel considers the unfortunate situation which has arisen


Photographs by Ken Levine


Information sourced from:
San Francisco Playhouse program notes
and Christopher Chen’s website


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San Francisco Opera’s Fall Season continues with Donizetti’s ‘Roberto Devereux’

A scene from Donizetti’s ‘Roberto Devereux’ – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera goes back to Tudor times for the second production of the Fall Season – Gaetano Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux.  The opera opened on Saturday evening, and continues its run on Tuesday, September 11th.  Roberto Devereux is the third in what’s known as Donizetti’s ‘Tudor Trilogy’ – preceded by Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda  – although the operas were apparently not designed as such.

This Canadian Opera Company production – which is new to San Francisco Opera – stars soprano Sondra Radvanovsky as Elisabetta, and tenor Russell Thomas as Devereux, and is led by Italian conductor Riccardo Frizza.

Sondra Radvanovsky (center) as Elisabetta in Donizetti’s ‘Roberto Devereux’ – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Maestro Frizza made his debut with the Company in 2011 with another Donizetti work, Lucrezia Borgia, appearing again with Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi in 2012, and again in 2014 with Puccini’s Tosca. Having conducted orchestras such as the Maggio Musicale Orchestra in Florence, Rome’s Accademia di Santa Cecilia, London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, and Staatskapelle Dresden, Riccardo Frizza has been appointed first musical director of the Donizetti Festival, the inaugural season of which takes place in November this year.

Roberto Devereux is directed by Stephen Lawless, who headed up productions for the Glyndebourne Touring Opera from 1986 to 1991, where his highly successful production of Benjamin Britten’s Death in Venice was recorded by the BBC for television and video release. He also has the honor of having produced the first ever live telecast of an opera from the Soviet Union to the UK, with his debut production of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov for the Kirov Opera in Leningrad. Other companies, aside from San Francisco Opera, for which he has directed include The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the Vienna State Opera, Washington, and Los Angeles Opera, and for Nürnberg Opera he directed the complete Ring cycle.

Jamie Barton as Sara and Sondra Radvanovsky as Elisabetta in Donizetti’s ‘Roberto Devereux’ – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The libretto for Roberto Devereux is by Salvatore Cammarano, and is thought to have been based largely on Felice Romani’s Il Comte d’Essex – but Cammarano is also said to have drawn for his material on the work of two French authors, Pierre Corneille and Francois Ancelot. Whatever the truth, Donizetti and Cammarano’s interpretation of the story of the romantic association between Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, Earl of Essex, might not be historically accurate, but it certainly makes a dramatic plot for an opera.

In Donizetti’s opera, Elisabetta is in love with Roberto Devereux, the Earl of Essex, whom she has sent to lead a military expedition to Ireland. Against her orders, he has signed a peace treaty with the Irish rebels, and her advisors, fueled by jealousy of his favored position at Court, use this opportunity to issue a charge of treason against him. Elisabetta faces the terrible choice of acknowledging where her loyalty lies – with her country or the man she loves. She then discovers that he has betrayed her – as well as his friend and ally, the Duke of Nottingham – by conducting an illicit affair with Nottingham’s wife, Sara. When Lord Cecil informs Elisabetta that Parliament has reached a decision and that Devereux faces the death penalty, she is forced to sign his death warrant, but strain of these events causes her to lose confidence in herself, and she relinquishes her crown in favor of King James of Scotland – her nephew and heir to the throne.

Russell Thomas as Roberto and Sondra Radvanovsky as Elisabetta in Donizetti’s ‘Roberto Devereux’ – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The 1837 premiere of Roberto Devereux, at the Teatro San Carlo, was only moderately successful, and the work lay largely unperformed from about 1850 until the renewed interest in music of bel canto in the latter part of the 20th century.

The role of Elisabetta is sung by Sondra Radvanovsky, one of the premier exponents not only of the Verdi repertoire, but also acknowledged as one of the finest interpreters of bel canto. Ms Radvanovsky made her San Francisco Opera debut in 2009 as Leonora in Il Trovatore, and returned in 2014 in the title role in Bellini’s Norma – her first performance in the opera. During the 2015-16 season she became the first singer in the history of the Metropolitan Opera to sing the soprano leads of Donizetti’s ‘three queens’ in his Tudor dramas. The New York Times described her performance as Queen Elizabeth as “an emotionally vulnerable and vocally daring performance, a milestone in the career of an essential artist”.

Russell Thomas as Roberto and Jamie Barton as Sara in ‘Roberto Devereux’ – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Russell Thomas – described by The New York Times as “a tenor of gorgeously burnished power” – made his San Francisco Opera debut as Pollione in Norma in 2014, and now returns to the Company in another role debut – the title role in Roberto Devereux. Known for his vivid character portrayals, Mr Thomas has more recently appeared in the title role of La Clemenza di Tito at the Salzburg Festival and Dutch National Opera, the title role of Don Carlo at Washington National Opera, Rodolfo in La Bohème at the Metropolitan Opera, Cavaradossi in Tosca with Los Angeles Opera, Ismaele in Nabucco at the Metropolitan Opera, and Mao Tse-Tung in John Adams’ Nixon in China with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Mezzo soprano Jamie Barton debuted at San Francisco Opera in 2014 as Adalgisa in Norma, a role which she has more recently performed with the Metropolitan Opera, Houston Grand Opera and Los Angeles Opera. Multi-awarding-winning Ms Barton has recently added yet another trophy to her cabinet – her debut solo album, All Who Wander, has won the 2018 BBC Music Magazine Vocal Award. Joyce DiDonato has said of Ms Barton: “The world has been waiting for this voice for a long time – one that reminds you of how capable the human voice is of creating something of absolute beauty”. Jamie Barton will also appear for San Francisco Opera as Jezibaba in Dvořák’s Rusalka next spring.

A scene from Donizetti’s ‘Roberto Devereux’ with Amitai Pati as Lord Cecil, Sondra Radvanovsky as Elisabetta, Andrew Manea as the Duke of Nottingham and Russell Thomas as the title role. Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The role of the Duke of Nottingham is sung by Romanian-American baritone Andrew Manea who, as a second-year Adler Fellow, made his Company debut as Marullo in Verdi’s Rigoletto in 2017 and appeared as Marquis d’Obigny in La Traviata last season. As a participant of the 2016 Merola Opera Program, Mr Manea appeared as Iron Hans/Wolf in the production of Conrad Susa’s Transformations.

New Zealand tenor Amitai Pati appears as Lord Cecil. In 2016 he took his first principal role, as Ferrando in Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte, for the Merola Opera Program, having won the Lexus SongQuest in 2012, and was invited to join the Young Singers Project in Salzburg, where he appeared in La Favorite with Elīna Garanča, Juan Diego Flórez and Ludovic Tézier, and took the tenor solo role in a production of Mozart’s Spatzenmesse.

Base-baritone Christian Pursell, a national semi-finalist of the 2016 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, sings the role of Walter Raleigh. His performance as Dandini in the 2017 Merola Opera Program production of La Cenerentola was highly acclaimed, and this season he will be appearing for San Francisco Opera as a jailer in Tosca, as Count Lamoral in Richard Strauss’ Arabella, and as a member of the Angel Quartet in Heggie’s It’s a Wonderful Life.

A scene from Donizetti’s ‘Roberto Devereux’ with Sondra Radvanovsky as Elisabetta – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Riccardo Frizza leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Director Ian Robertson) in Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux – sung in Italian with English supertitles – until September 27th. For performance dates and tickets, visit the San Francisco Opera website.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Opera program notes


Sondra Radvanovsky

Russell Thomas

Jamie Barton


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San Francisco Opera’s Weekend of Celebrations

Laura Krumm as Lola, Roberto Aronica as Turiddu and Ekaterina Semenchuk as Santuzza in Mascagni’s ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The launch of the San Francisco Opera Season is always a grand affair – three consecutive days of festivities starting with the annual Opera Ball and the opening production of the Fall Season on Friday, another first night on Saturday, and the annual free Opera in the Park on Sunday, featuring some of the conductors and soloists who’ll be seen throughout the Season.

Opening this evening, September 7th, with the traditional double bill of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, the Company’s Fall Season features a lineup of fabulous productions – including Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux, a new production of Puccini’s Tosca, Strauss’ Arabella, the West Coast Premiere of Jake Heggie’s It’s a Wonderful Life, Bizet’s Carmen, Handel’s Orlando and Dvořák’s Rusalka.

It’s 15 years since Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci were last presented at the War Memorial Opera House, and this new production for San Francisco Opera is by the Argentine tenor, conductor and director José Cura – making his Company debut. Described by Seen & Heard International as “a polymath, a Leonardo da Vinci of our time”, he has set both operas in the La Boca neighborhood of Buenos Aires, well known for its colorful architecture and live tango displays.

Ekaterina Semenchuk as Santuzza (seated at right) and the San Francisco Opera Chorus in a scene from Mascagni’s ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Also making his San Francisco Opera debut in these performances is Italian conductor Daniele Callegari, whose opera repertoire includes Bellini’s Capuleti e Montecchi, Norma and La sonnambula, Bizet’s Carmen, and Donizetti’s Elisir d’amore, Lucia di Lammermoor, Lucrezia Borgia, Les Martyrs and Maria Stuarda.

Italian composer Pietro Mascagni is probably best known for his role in introducing the concept of verismo to the world of opera in the latter part of the 19th century. Already popular in theatre, verismo reflected the lives and passions, violence and honor of everyday people – as opposed to the somewhat distant existences of royalty and the gods – and it accentuated the importance of emotion over beautiful sound.

Cavalleria Rusticana, with a libretto by Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti, is based on a Sicilian melodrama by Giovanni Verga, and tells of the soldier Turiddu who returns from military service to find that his fiancée, Lola, has married Alfio, a well-to-do wagon owner and driver. In an act of revenge, Turiddu seduces Santuzza, a peasant girl, and Lola becomes so jealous that she starts an adulterous affair with Turiddu. Santuzza publicly betrays the pair, Alfio challenges Turiddu to a duel, and Turiddu pays for his actions with his life.

Roberto Aronica as Turiddu with members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus in Mascagni’s ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

This one-act opera – which was composed for a competition held by the music publisher Sonzogno – was written in a hurry, and Mascagni was ultimately too nervous to submit it, but his wife did so on the last day of the competition. Although Cavalleria Rusticana opened to a half-empty house at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome, on May 17th, 1890, it was rapturously received, and has retained its popularity ever since, often being performed in tandem with Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. Mascagni went on to succeed Arturo Toscanini at La Scala Milan, in 1929.

In this San Francisco Opera production, Russian mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk sings the role of Santuzza. Having made her debut with the Company as Federica in Luisa Miller in 2015, Ms Semenchuk returned in 2016 in the role of Amneris in Verdi’s Aïda. A specialist in the 19th-century dramatic mezzo-soprano repertoire, her recent engagements include Eboli in Verdi’s Don Carlo at Teatro all Scala and The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; Azucena in his Il Trovatore at Rome Opera, the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg and The Royal Opera; Fricka in Wagner’s Das Rheingold at the Edinburgh International Festival; and Lady Macbeth in Verdi’s Macbeth at Los Angeles Opera, opposite Plácido Domingo.

Italian tenor Roberto Aronica returns to the War Memorial Opera House in the role of Turiddu. He debuted with San Francisco Opera in 1993 as Rodolfo in Puccini’s La Bohème, and he has more recently appeared in the title role of Don Carlos at the Royal Opera House, Manrico in Il Trovatore at the Teatro Comunale di Bologna, as Pinkerton in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, Calaf in Puccini’s Turandot at Turin’s Teatro Regio, and Alfredo in Verdi’s La Traviata at the Metropolitan Opera.

Scene from Mascagni’s ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Greek baritone Dimitri Platanias makes his Company debut as Alfio. A gifted linguist, Mr Platanias is known for the rich quality of his voice and for the insight which he brings to his interpretation of the roles he portrays. Among his recent successes are his debuts at the Bayerische Staatsoper in the title role of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, and in Nabucco at Palau de les Arts Reina; his performances as Iago in Otello at Oper Frankfurt, Tonio in I Pagliacci at the Osterfestspiele Salzburg and at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (both released on DVD), and as Alfio in Cavalleria Rusticana.

The role of Lola is sung by former San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow, mezzo-soprano Laura Krumm, who has has appeared on the stage of the War Memorial Opera House as the Second Maidservant in Strauss’ Elektra, Javotte in Manon, Rosina in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for Families, Countess Ceprano and a Page in Verdi’s Rigoletto, and a Maid in the world premiere of Tobias Picker’s Dolores Claiborne.

Mezzo-soprano Jill Grove, who appears as Mamma Lucia, last appeared with San Francisco Opera in 2017 in the role of First Maidservant in Elektra. She has previously performed with the Company as Madelon in Andrea Chénier, and Grandmother Buryjovka in Janáček’s Jenůfa.

Amitai Pati as Beppe with the San Francisco Opera Chorus in Leoncavallo’s ‘Pagliacci’ – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Ruggero Leoncavallo was a contemporary of Mascagni, and following Mascagni’s success with Cavalleria Rusticana, wrote his own one-act opera in similar style, and submitted it to Sonzogno. Pagliacci – meaning ‘clowns’ or ‘players’ – tells of a performance by a troupe of traveling actors in which the action mirrors what turns out to be a real-life drama, and in which each of the leading players plays a role similar to that of his or her actual counterpart.

Canio is head of the troupe, and married to Nedda. Tonio, a clown, is attracted to Nedda, but she’s involved in a clandestine affair with the villager Silvio. They plan to run away together, but Tonio tells Canio what Nedda has planned, and Silvio manages to escape his wrath. This actuality is similar to the plot of the play, and at this point in the performance, Canio forgets that he’s on stage and insists on Nedda divulging the name of her lover. She tries to continue with the performance, and another actor, Beppe, steps in to prevent Canio from killing Nedda with a knife. Her lover Silvio arrives on the scene, and Canio in his anger stabs both of them.  Pagliacci premiered in a hugely successful performance in Milan, on May 21st, 1892, with Arturo Toscanini conducting.

A scene from Leoncavallo’s ‘Pagliacci’ – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

In this San Francisco Opera production, Armenian soprano Lianna Haroutounian sings the role of Nedda. Regarded as one of the world’s leading interpreters of Verdi and Puccini, she appeared in the title roles of Aïda at Madrid’s Teatro Real, and Tosca at the Palau de les Arts Valencia during the 2017-18 season.  During this last season, she also made her most recent appearance at San Francisco Opera, in the title role of Madama Butterfly, with which she made her debuts at Seattle Opera and the Staatsoper Hamburg.

The role of Canio is taken by Italian tenor Marco Berti, admired as an exponent of the Verdi repertoire in roles such as – Radamés in Aïda, Riccardo in Un ball in maschera, and the title roles in Ernani and Otello – and that of Puccini, having appeared as Des Grieux in Manon Lescaut, Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, and Cavaradossi in Tosca. He has also received acclaim for his interpretation of Don José in Bizet’s Carmen, as well as Canio in Pagliacci.

Dimitri Platanias makes his second appearance of the evening as the clown, Tonio, who betrays Nedda and Silvio’s relationship to Canio.

The role of Silvio is sung by American baritone David Pershall, whose most recent appearance for San Francisco Opera was Lescaut in December 2017, following his 2016 debut with the Company as Roucher in Andrea Chénier. Mr Pershall is a graduate of the Merola Opera Program, and has appeared at the Metropolitan Opera in the title role of Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia, as Schaunard in Puccini’s La Bohème and Lord Cecil in Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda.

Amitai Pati as Beppe, Lianna Haroutounian as Nedda and Dimitri Platanias as Tonio in Leoncavallo’s ‘Pagliacci’ – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Beppe is sung by New Zealand tenor Amitai Pati, a participant of the 2016 Merola Opera Program, during which he performed his first principal role as Ferrando in Mozart’s Così fan tutte. An experienced choral singer, he has performed and toured with the New Zealand Youth Choir, Graduate Choir, and the Auckland University Choir. Amitai Pati will appear in two other San Francisco Opera productions this season – as Lord Cecil in Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux, and in Heggie’s It’s a Wonderful Life.

Daniele Callegari leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Director Ian Robertson) in the United States premiere of José Cura’s production of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci, staged in revival by fellow Argentine stage director Jose Maria Condemi.  This Opéra Royal de Wallonie-Liège production is sung in Italian with English supertitles. Performances take place at the War Memorial Opera House between September 7th and 30th. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Opera website.
Information sourced from:

San Francisco Opera program notes

Encyclopaedia Britannica

Encyclopaedia Britannica 

Opera Australia

and artists’ websites:

José Cura
Daniele Callegari
Ekaterina Semenchuk
Dimitri Platanias
Laura Krumm
Jill Grove
Lianna Haroutounian
Marco Berti
David  Pershall


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