Former San Francisco Ballet soloist honored with Princess Grace Award

Dana Genshaft in Ratmansky’s ‘From Foreign Lands’ (© Erik Tomasson)

San Francisco Ballet and the San Francisco Ballet School have recently received some exciting news. Dana Genshaft – a former soloist with the Company, and now a faculty member of the Ballet School – has been honored with a Princess Grace Award in Choreography. Presented annually by the Princess Grace Foundation USA, the Award will provide Dana with financial assistance and ongoing support as she pursues her career in choreography.

Princess Grace of Monaco is remembered for her talent, beauty, elegance and her compassion. Among her achievements was the establishment of a Foundation to help those with special needs, and to bring international recognition to two high profile fundraising events in the Principality of Monaco – the Bal de la Croix Rouge and the Bal de la Rose.

Official Portrait of Princess Grace – Credit: Archives of the Princely Palace of Monaco

There was, however, another side to Princess Grace’s philanthropy. With her enduring love of the arts, the Princess harbored a desire to help emerging artists in the world of theatre, dance and film to pursue their dreams, so – after her death in 1982 – Prince Rainier founded the Princess Grace Foundation USA, to provide grants in the form of scholarships, apprenticeships and fellowships, to enable these artists to develop their talents. Among dancers who have been recognized are San Francisco Ballet Principal Joseph Walsh, Robert Battle – Artistic Director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater – American Ballet Theatre’s Gillian Murphy and Isabella Boylston, and New York City Ballet’s Tiler Peck, as well as choreographers and MacArthur “Genius” grant winners, Kyle Abraham and Michelle Dorrance.

Dana Genshaft was born in Moscow, and trained at the Kirov Academy of Ballet, the School of American Ballet and the Paris Opéra Ballet School. In 2000, she became an apprentice with San Francisco Ballet, joined the Company as a member of the corps de ballet the following year, and in 2008 was promoted to the rank of soloist. She has performed lead roles in Ashton’s Monotones I; Elo’s Double Evil; McGregor’s Eden/Eden; Morris’ Pacific, Maelstrom, and A Garden; Tomasson’s 7 for Eight; Welch’s Naked; and Wheeldon’s Carousel (A Dance) and Within the Golden Hour. She had a singing role as Rosalia in Robbins’ West Side Story Suite, and created roles in Caniparoli’s Ibsen’s House and Morris’ Joyride.

Faculty member Dana Genshaft leads San Francisco Ballet School students in class (© Erik Tomasson)

Following her retirement from the Company in 2015, Dana Genshaft joined the faculty of the San Francisco Ballet School, where she has since taught contemporary repertory, conditioning, and choreography. Included in her choreographic assignments were those for for the American Ballet Theatre Studio Company and James Sofranko’s SFDanceworks.

Nearly 10 years ago, the Princess Grace Foundation USA commissioned celebrated artist Alex Soldier to create a trophy to be presented to recipients of the Princess Grace Award. Using mainly platinum-plated silver, with black obsidian and Swarovski crystal accents, Soldier created a beautiful objet d’art representing the three disciplines that were closest to the Princess’s heart – theatre, dance and film. Representing an elegant depiction of dance in its overall design, the award also features the American flag, the crown of the Princess Grace Foundation USA, a strip of film which falls into a cascade of stars, and at its centre are the masks which are universally symbolic of the theatre.

The Princess Grace Award, designed by Alex Soldier

It is fair to wonder how these award-winners are selected, and Toby E Boshak, Executive Director of PGF-USA, provides the answer. “Princess Grace Award winners,” he says, “are some of the nation’s most talented artists.  Each person is nominated by a non-profit company’s artistic director or school’s department chair, and since each organization may only nominate one individual, we are seeing the top creative talents in each of the three categories we fund: theater, dance, and film. From this already impressive list, our panelists choose 5 or 6 individuals who embody artistic excellence and a commitment to their craft.”

Winners of the Princess Grace Award who go on to distinguish themselves in their chosen artistic discipline are also eligible to receive the Foundation’s Princess Grace Statue Award, and this year two Statue Awards will be presented, to Sam Gold – Tony Award-winning director of Fun Home – and Kyle Abraham – Bessie Award-winner and founder of the dance company Abraham.In.Motion.

The awards ceremony takes place, in the presence of Her Serene Highness, the Princess of Monaco, at Cipriani 25 Broadway, New York City, on October 16, 2018.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Ballet

The Princess Grace Foundation USA

Alex Soldier

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Cuba’s greatest living pianists at SFJAZZ

Chucho Valdés and Gonzalo Rubalcaba – Photo courtesy SFJAZZ

This week in San Francisco, lovers of Cuban jazz have a rare opportunity to see two of the greatest living pianists which that country has produced – Chucho Valdés and Gonzalo Rubalcaba – on stage together, at SFJAZZ. In a program entitled Trance, these two legendary artists will share with their audiences an intimate program of duo and solo performances – four evenings of pure jazz piano, Cuban style.

Chuco Valdés – pianist, composer and arranger, and winner of six GRAMMY® and three Latin GRAMMY® Awards – is regarded as the most influential figure in modern Afro-Cuban jazz. According to The New York Times he’s “one of the world’s great virtuosic pianists”. First taught by his father – the pianist, composer and bandleader, Ramón “Bebo” Valdés – Chucho graduated from the Conservatorio Municipal de Música de la Habana at the age of 14, formed his first jazz trio a year later, and at the age of 18 made his debut with one of the great orchestras in modern Cuban music history, Sabor de Cuba, directed by his father.

Not content with performing with a great Cuban orchestra, Valdés founded his own ensemble, Irakere, in 1973, and although it wasn’t known outside Cuba at the time, it wasn’t long before Dizzy Gillespie heard the band on a visit to the island, and arranged for it to be signed up by CBS. In 1978, Irakere debuted at Carnegie Hall as part of the Newport Jazz Festival, and the following year was awarded the GRAMMY for Best Latin Recording.  Valdés stayed with the ensemble until 2005.

The talents of pianist and composer Gonzalo Rubalcaba had already been recognized in his home country when he was discovered in 1985 by Dizzy Gillespie – who described him as “…the greatest pianist I’ve heard in the last 10 years”…. Rubalcaba, too, had a father who was a pianist, composer and bandleader, and young Gonzalo was playing drums in his father’s orchestra at the tender age of 6. Following his graduation from the Institute of Fine Arts in Havana, he swung into the world of touring musicians, visiting Europe, Africa and Asia with the Orchestra Aragón, as well as touring his native Cuba, and by 1984 was leading his own Afro-Cuban band, Grupo Proyecto.

In 1999 Gonzalo Rubalcaba was listed by Piano & Keyboard Magazine as one of the great pianists of the 20th century – along with names as illustrious as Glenn Gould, Martha Argerich and Bill Evans – and Sir Simon Rattle has referred to him as “the most gifted pianist on the planet …”. The list of awards that Rubalcaba has received is highly impressive. Among these are two GRAMMYs, two Latin GRAMMYS, the PALMAR D’OR” of the Music Academy in Paris, the Latin Pride National Award, he has been recognized by The Art Critics Association in Japan, the Festival Internacional de Jazz de Barcelona, and the ASCAP Foundation, and he was the 2001 Leader Circle Laureate of the San Francisco Jazz Festival Organization. Since 2015 he has been a faculty member of the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami.

Chucho Valdés and Gonzalo Rubalcaba are at SFJAZZ from Thursday to Sunday, August 2nd to 5th. For more information, and for tickets, visit the SFJAZZ website.

Information sourced from:

SFJAZZ program notes

and artists’ websites:

Chucho Valdés

Gonzalo Rubalcaba


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San Francisco Playhouse spends ‘Sunday in the Park with George’

John Bambery in the title role in ‘Sunday in the Park with George’

Staging Sunday in the Park with George is certainly a challenging and ambitious undertaking. The concept is brilliant, the piece of theatre masterly (it has a Pulitzer Prize and 10 Tony Awards to its credit), but without consummate performing talent, and the technical artistry to produce a simply awe-inspiring set of back-drops, it would be impossible to convey to the audience the depth of emotion of a story so imbued with passion. If anyone can deliver a stunning success despite rigorous demands such as these, though, it’s the San Francisco Playhouse.

It’s hardly surprising that Director Bill English felt “terrified” to bring to bring this production to the stage. His trepidation was based on the fact that it’s such a personal work, exposing “the vulnerability of art and how that deeply affects the artists who create it”.

John Bambery (George) and Nanci Zoppi (Dot) in ‘Sunday in the Park with George’

The play picks up the story of post-impressionist artist, Georges Seurat, in 1884, as he’s engrossed in observing and creating sketches of local Parisians enjoying the peace and tranquillity of a Sunday afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. From this scene he will create his masterpiece with pointillism, a technique which he’s developed, using minuscule points of color, too tiny to be discerned by the naked eye, but which give his works the overall sensation of shimmering light.

Transport this scene to Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s musical, a fictional interpretation of the story surrounding the creation of Seurat’s unusual painting – the title of which translates from the French as A Sunday afternoon on the island of La Grand Jatte. Here the artist, George – in a tremendous performance by John Bambery – is working feverishly, totally absorbed in his sketches, and completely oblivious to the complaints – or needs – of his lover, Dot, who is posing for him – a plaintive and sympathetic portrayal by Nanci Zoppi.

John Bambery (George) and Nanci Zoppi (Dot) in the Sondheim/Lapine musical ‘Sunday in the Park with George’

Gradually, the subjects of the work which George is planning are brought to life – against the backdrop of a huge reproduction of the painting – each having his or her own story to tell, or problem to air. They interact with each other, they break into song to an unusual and almost brittle score, and as an onlooker, you are drawn into the lives of this disparate group of people – whose somewhat solemn demeanor is offset by the presence of a young girl and cardboard replicas of two obviously playful dogs – and who outwardly all appear to be ignoring each other. They turn out, however, to be a lot more colorful than you’d imagine. Interestingly, almost every one of them in Seurat’s painting is in profile, and even those who are front-facing have their faces smudged, so you really have little idea who and what they are until Sondheim and Lapine bring them to life.

John Bambery (George), Maureen McVerry (the Old Lady) and Michelle Drexler (Nurse)

There’s George’s rather crotchety mother, known as the Old Lady (Maureen McVerry) who is greatly disturbed by the tower being constructed for the forthcoming International Exposition, her nurse (Michelle Drexler) who is far more interested in Franz, the coachman of George’s friends – Jules (Ryan Drummond) and his wife Yvonne (Abby Haug). Jules, also a painter, is finding it very hard to appreciate George’s masterpiece – and Franz and his wife Frieda have a less than convivial relationship. There’s also the rough and ready – and rather ill-tempered – boatman (Xander Ritchey) who shouts at Jules and Yvonne’s daughter, Louise (Charlotte Ying Levy), when she tries to pet his dog. The shopgirls – Celeste 1 and Celeste 2 (Emily Radosevich and Corrie Farbstein) – vie for the attention of two soldiers (Elliott Hansen and William Giammona) – and American tourists (Zac Schumann and Michelle Drexler) are hating everything about Paris, apart from the pastries, so they plan to take the baker, Louis (Anthony Rollins-Mullens), back to the States with them, together with Dot, whom he’s prepared to marry, even though she’s carrying George’s child.

Fast forward 100 years to an American gallery, where the artist’s great-grandson, also named George, is opening his new exhibition of highly technical and whizzy artworks. He, like his great-grandfather, is enduring his own personal crisis in trying to bring to the world of art a concept which is new and somewhat revolutionary, but he, ultimately, discovers his own fulfillment through linking his present to his celebrated past.

Everything about this production of Sunday in the Park with George is deserving of a superlative – from the casting, to the sets, to the performance of the score. Visually sumptuous, it’s delightful, humorous, fascinating and also intensely moving – a particularly fine work of art.

Sunday in the Park with George runs at the San Francisco Playhouse until September 8th. For more information and tickets, visit

Photos by Ken Levin

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Playhouse program notes

The Art Story

Encyclopaedia Britannica

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Philip Glass Residency at SFJAZZ

Philip Glass – Photo © Steve Pyke – courtesy SFJAZZ

As the SFJAZZ Summer Sessions continue to sizzle, this week brings to San Francisco a particularly interesting residency – that of Philip Glass – the first composer with a repertoire which has spanned the opera house, the concert hall and the jazz scene, as well as the worlds of film and dance – simultaneously. And unsurprisingly, this extraordinarily versatile artist brings to SFJAZZ an eclectic range of fellow artists who have each made their mark in the classical, jazz and/or contemporary traditions.

Baltimore-born and raised, Glass studied initially at the University of Chicago, the Juilliard School, and in Aspen – with 20th century French composer Darius Milhaud. In Paris he studied further under the distinguished Nadia Boulanger – whose pupils included Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson and Quincy Jones – and Glass also worked closely with sitar virtuoso and composer, Ravi Shankar.

Returning to New York in 1967, he established the Philip Glass Ensemble – a group of seven musicians with whom he still performs his own distinctive style of music – which he describes as “music with repetitive structures”. Glass has collaborated with names such as Yo-Yo Ma, Doris Lessing, Paul Simon, Linda Ronstadt, David Bowie and Twyla Tharp – and even inspired choreographer Jerome Robbins to create a work for New York City Ballet. Entitled Glass Pieces, it’s set, as the name implies, to three of his compositions. Glass has composed more than twenty operas and ten symphonies, works for saxophone, film soundtracks, and concertos for piano, violin and timpani. Having recently celebrated his 80th anniversary concert season, he is still presenting lectures, workshops and solo piano performances the world over.

Harpist Lavinia Meijer might be better known to some as a classical artist, having appeared with ensembles such as the Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra, the Israel Philharmonic, the Amsterdam Sinfonietta and the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra. She has recorded works by Debussy, Satie and Ravel, and also made transcriptions of some of Philip Glass’ works for harp. Her latest recording, The Glass Effect, was released to celebrate his 80th birthday, and on it, Lavinia Meijer has collaborated with a number of different composers, each creating, as she says, “their own spectrum of sounds and shapes based on the works of Philip Glass”.

Also joining Philip Glass for his first two performances at SFJAZZ is Israeli-American cellist Matt Haimovitz. Classically trained, Haimovitz first appeared at Carnegie Hall at the age of 13, and won an Avery Fisher Career Grant. Gradually he realized that there simply weren’t enough young people attending his concerts, so he took the decision to relinquish the formality of the concert hall in favor of the kind of places that young people did frequent – coffee houses, bars, nightclubs and the like – which in 2005 won him the American Music Center’s Trailblazer Award. In 2012, he performed the premier of Philip Glass’ Cello Concerto No 2 Naqoyqatsi.

Lavinia Meijer and Matt Haimovitz appear with Philip Glass in the Miner Auditorium at SFJAZZ on July 19 and 20. For more information and tickets, visit the SFJAZZ website.

Philips Glass’ next guests are three pianists – Russian pianist and composer Anton Batagov, jazz pianist Aaron Diehl, and Taiwanese keyboardist Jenny Lin.

Regarded as one of the most influential Russian composers and performers of our time, Anton Batagov initially studied at the Gnessin Russian Academy of Music and the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory, and was a 1986 prizewinner at the International Tchaikovsky Competition. Batagov is as familiar with the music of Bach, Schubert, Beethoven, Messiaen and Ravel, as with composers of the Russian avant-garde, and has composed several film soundtracks, and over 3,000 tunes for the major Russian TV channels. He is credited with having fundamentally changed the character of new Russian music – bringing contemporary classics to the world of television music, and introducing the music of John Cage, Morton Feldman, Steve Reich and Philip Glass to Russian audiences.

Aaron Diehl is a classically trained pianist and composer, who – over the past 15 years – has made a significant impression on the world of jazz. Described as “a staple of the jazz scene in New York since 2007”, he has been both pianist and musical director for vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, and – according to the New York Daily News – is “a rising star of jazz piano” with “an individual talent so huge that one day he may extend the jazz tradition”. He was the 2011 winner of the American Pianists Association’s Cole Porter Fellowship, has toured Europe with the Wynton Marsalis Septet, and has recently turned his attention to modern classical works, performing the Gershwin Piano Concerto with the Cleveland Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the New York Philharmonic at its gala opening of the 2016-17 season, prompting the New York Times to comment: “… it’s hard to imagine that Gershwin would not have been impressed”.

Described as “dynamic” by the New York Times, pianist Jenny Lin has also won plaudits from Italy’s Eco di Bergamo: “She has not only bravura, flawless technique and youthful temperament; but also a class that is perceptible at once, and that puts her on a different level”.  She received standing ovations at her Spoleto Festival debut, and has performed at Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall, the Kennedy Center, MoMA, Stanford Live and festivals such as Mostly Mozart, the Chopin Festival Austria and the Schleswig-Holstein Festival in Germany. Among the highlights of Jenny Lin’s 2017-18 season was the release of a recording of the complete Piano Etudes of Philip Glass, which she has been performing on a world tour with him.

Philip Glass is joined by Anton Batagov, Aaron Diehl and Jenny Lin in the Miner Auditorium at SFJAZZ on July 21st and 22nd. For more information and tickets, visit the SFJAZZ website.

Information sourced from:

SFJAZZ program notes

Artists’ websites:

Philip Glass

Lavinia Meijer

Anton Batagov

Aaron Diehl

Jenny Lin


AllMusic – Matt Haimovitz


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A blast of young talent hits the San Francisco Symphony

Two startlingly gifted and brilliant young musicians are in performance at Davies Symphony Hall this week, as the San Francisco Symphony hosts a conductor and soloist, both in their mid-twenties – neither of whom is settling for an easy ride.  In an all-Russian program of masterworks, British conductor Alexander Prior leads the Symphony in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto – with American violinist William Hagen as guest artist – and a performance of Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No 2.

Alexander Prior, at the age of just 25, is the newly-appointed Chief Conductor of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, with whom he has worked as a guest conductor since 2014. He is also an accomplished composer, having written his first work at the age of 8. London-born and Russian trained, Prior studied at the St Petersburg Conservatory, graduating with master’s degrees in Symphonic and Operatic Conducting and Composition – and at 17 was the youngest student since Sergei Prokofiev to graduate with distinction as a conductor from the Conservatory. At the age of 12, he was conducting his own music at a St Petersburg opera house, and the following year, his ballet Mowgli – commissioned by the Moscow State Ballet – won international acclaim. Alexander Prior has to date written more than 40 works – symphonies, concertos, two ballets, and two operas – with his work being performed at venues such as the Wigmore Hall, the Barbican and the Royal Danish Ballet.

Conductor Alexander Prior – Photo © Diana Unt – courtesy San Francisco Symphony

As a conductor, Prior was appointed to the staff of the Seattle Symphony at the age of 17, where – during the 2009-10 season – he served as Assistant Conductor. His mentors include luminaries of the caliber of Thomas Dausgaard and Robert Spano, Michael Tilson Thomas at the New World Symphony, Andrew Manze, and Nicholas McGegan and Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos – both at the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  Alexander Prior has appeared as guest conductor at Opera Leipzig, the Bavarian State Opera, Royal Danish Opera, the Vienna Chamber Orchestra, Norwegian Radio Orchestra, the German Chamber Orchestra Bremen, Copenhagen Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic, WDR Funkhaus Orchestra, Seattle Symphony, Victoria Symphony and the New World Symphony.

American violinist William Hagen considers the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto to be “one of the greatest pieces of music ever written”. It’s also considered one of the most technically challenging in the repertoire, presenting the soloist with the longest period of continuous playing of all violin concertos.

Following Hagen’s performance of this work at the 2015 Queen Elisabeth Concours, wrote: “Impeccable timing, an intellectual command of line and score and just the right amount of power to push his cadenzas to the fore brought the audience to its feet: Hagen wore his heart on his sleeve and took many of us along to rejoice with him.” And Belgium’s Le Soir described his performance as “…. a cultured reading of a demanding work ….. that takes its own value beyond its technical difficulties.”

American violinist William Hagen – Photo © Jeff + Fasano

Hagen has performed in chamber concerts with Steven Isserlis at Wigmore Hall in London, and with Gidon Kremer, Steven Isserlis, and Christian Tetzlaff at the “Chamber Music Connects the World” festival in Kronberg, Germany. Conductors with whom William Hagen has appeared include Marin Alsop, Christian Arming, Placido Domingo, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Michel Tabachnik and Hugh Wolff, and he has performed with the symphony orchestras of Albany, Buffalo, Fort Worth, Jacksonville, St. Louis, Oregon and Utah, in the US, and abroad with the Brussels Philharmonic, the National Orchestra of Belgium, the ORF Radio-Sinfonieorchester in Vienna, the Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège, and in Japan with the Yokohama Sinfonietta and the Sendai Philharmonic. He is currently studying under Christian Tetzlaff at the Kronberg Academy in Germany, is an alumnus of the Perlman Music Program at the Verbier Academy in Switzerland, and has also appeared at the Aspen Music Festival.

The inclusion of a work by Tchaikovsky and one by Rachmaninoff in this program is interesting – for Tchaikovsky was a great supporter of the young Rachmaninoff, who in turn admired Tchaikovsky enormously. Certainly, the influence on Rachmaninoff of the older composer has not been lost on us.

William Hagen – Photo © Jeff + Fasano

Sketched and completely orchestrated in less than a month, the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto was initially dedicated to Leopold Auer – who was highly critical of the work – so Tchaikovsky dedicated it to Adolf Brodsky instead, and he performed at the premiere in Vienna on December 4, 1881. The concerto was, however, poorly received, with one prominent critic – according to Anthony Holden in his biography of Tchaikovsky – having “reviled the very hallmarks which have since made the piece so popular: its athletic energy, its robust romanticism and its red-bloodedly Slavonic finale”. We now know, of course, that this is one of the most popular violin concertos in the repertoire.

It’s somewhat surprising that Rachmaninoff’s sumptuous and richly melodic Second Symphony ever saw the light of day, following the devastating reception of his First Symphony in 1897. Nevertheless, following a course in hypno-therapy, Rachmaninoff completed the score which became his most popular work – his Second Piano Concerto – in 1901. So successful was he as a concert pianist, that he moved to Dresden with his wife and baby daughter to remove himself from the public eye, and it was there that his Symphony No 2 was composed during the years 1906 and 1907. He led the first performance of the work on February 8, 1908, in St Petersburg, and by the end of that year, he had been awarded the Glinka prize for it. Sadly, Rachmaninoff’s full worth as a composer only started to be recognized after his death in Beverley Hills in 1943.

Alexander Prior leads the San Francisco Symphony in performances of works by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, with soloist William Hagen, at Davies Symphony Hall on July 13th and 14th at 7.30 pm. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.


Information sourced from artists’ websites:

William Hagen

Alexander Prior

CBC Music

San Francisco Symphony program notes



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David Gockley awarded San Francisco Opera’s Highest Honor

David Gockley (center) – General Director Emeritus, San Francisco Opera – with Donald Runnicles (left) – conductor of the ‘Ring’ cycle – and current General Director, Matthew Shilvock © Drew Altizer Photography

At the end of an almost completely sold-out program of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, San Francisco Opera celebrated further, by awarding David Gockley, General Director Emeritus, the company’s highest honor – the San Francisco Opera Medal.

The award was given in recognition of Gockley’s enormous and highly-valued contribution to the world of opera – not only here in San Francisco, where he served as General Director of the company for 10 years, but also at Houston Grand Opera, where his tenure as General Director spanned three decades.

Under David Gockley’s innovative leadership, San Francisco Opera experienced a wealth of accomplishments. Early on in his tenure, he introduced thousands of people to the wonders of opera – people who would probably never have dreamed of buying tickets to a performance at the War Memorial Opera House. By initiating a live simulcast from the opera house stage, firstly to a giant screen in San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza, and subsequently at AT&T Park, Gockley enabled over 300,000 people to enjoy some of the finest performances of opera, over a period of 15 years. With these simulcasts, he paved the way for the first broadcast-standard video production facility to be installed in an American opera house.

David Gockley with the cast of Wagner’s ‘Götterdämmerung’ © Drew Altizer Photography

During Gockley’s tenure, San Francisco Opera commissioned or co-commissioned 11 new works, presented 9 world premieres and co-produced a new production of Wagner’s Ring cycle which premiered in 2011 and has just completed a further run. Nicola Luisotti was appointed company music director during the Gockley years, which saw the rejuvenation of the company’s reputation as a leading presenter of the Italian repertoire. In February 2016, the Diane B Wilsey Center for Opera opened, the company’s Education department was established, as was the San Francisco Opera archives – in which one of the two galleries of historic photographs was named after David Gockley.

Under Gockley’s leadership, Houston Grand Opera won a Tony Award, two Emmys and two Grammy Awards, presented 35 world premieres and six American premieres, and became America’s leading commissioner and producer of new works. The original full score version of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess was added to the HGO repertoire, the company commissioned and presented the world premiere of John Adams’ first opera, Nixon in China, in 1987, Gockley oversaw the creation of the Wortham Theater Center, built completely by private funding, and he pioneered the co-production model.

In his tribute to David Gockley, Matthew Shilvock – who succeeded him as General Director of San Francisco Opera – spoke of the vast numbers of singers, composers, conductors, directors and designers to whom Gockley gave opportunities for innovation and advancement, and praised him for creating new ways of enabling more and more people to engage with opera. “You have made it accessible, compelling, and vital in our lives,” he said. “And you have given us a legacy of artistic experiences—like this Ring—that will remain in our souls for all time.”

In 2016, American Impresario: David Gockley’s Life in Opera was published by Chronicle Books.


Information sourced from San Francisco Opera


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Elegant, passionate and sumptuous – MTT & San Francisco Symphony release Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pathétique’

Following the beautiful recording of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony in 2015 – together with his lovely Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture – we could be sure that the Sixth wouldn’t be too far behind.  The Pathétique is now about to be released – and it’s every bit as gorgeous as the previous Tchaikovsky album. Quite simply, it’s exquisite. Recorded live during performances at Davies Symphony Hall in March 2017, the Russian master’s final symphony is about to be released in digital format on the SFS Media label.

This recording bears all the hallmarks of Tilson Thomas’ obvious love for the work of Tchaikovsky – a performance into which both he and the Symphony seem to have poured their very souls.  As MTT explains in the following video clip, there’s an interesting rationale behind his reluctance to record this work earlier – “…. I could not come to a peaceful solution as to how to give it the delicacy and vulnerability, as well as the enormous power that it so often requires”, he says. He felt that his interpretation needed to reflect the delicacy and elegance of the work, and the emotion that Tchaikovsky was conveying in this most personal symphony.  The composer was, after all, frequently described as elegant, gracious and courteous, with beautiful manners.

Countless opinions have been expressed on the meaning of this work since the composer’s death – a matter of days after it premiered in St Petersburg on October 28th, 1893 – where it had been “politely and respectfully, but not rapturously”, received. Many have felt that, with the slow, solemn fourth movement – what Tchaikovsky described as “….. a most unhurried adagio” – he had been writing his own requiem, that he was anticipating his forthcoming demise.

There is, however, much evidence to suggest quite the opposite – that it represents, in fact, Tchaikovsky’s interpretation of life itself. “The underlying essence … of the symphony is Life”, he’d written when sketching notes for the work on a voyage home from America in 1889. “First part – all impulsive passion, confidence, thirst for activity …. Second part love: third disappointments; fourth ends dying away …..”. Nevertheless, when talking to his nephew Bob – to whom the work was dedicated – in February 1893, he was quite adamant that “… the program will remain a conundrum to everyone. Let them guess at it,” he said.

Photo © Kristin Loken – courtesy San Francisco Symphony

There are also conflicting reports about Tchaikovsky’s state of mind in the month preceding the premiere of the work. In mid-September he had visited his brother Anatoly and his family near Nizhny-Novgorod, where – according to his sister-in-law – “he enjoyed the beautiful country walks tremendously. He was in perfect health and full of plans for the future.” He even promised to spend the forthcoming Christmas with them. Other plans included his intention the following spring to walk the full length of the canal near his home in Klin to the Volga, as well as the mention of a new opera – Romeo and Juliet, perhaps. Nevertheless there are also reports of the gloom that descended on him when he returned home to Klin, and to a previously abandoned work – a symphony which he’d decided to turn into his Third Piano Concerto – and with which he was struggling.  So the questions surrounding his state of mind continue to swirl around.

According to one of his biographers, Anthony Holden, there was good reason to believe that the composer was in good spirits in the days preceding the premiere – even after the less than fulsome response it received.  Tchaikovsky was also optimistic that this symphony would achieve greater success at its planned first performance in Moscow some weeks later – which he didn’t live to conduct.

Photo © Stefan Cohen – courtesy San Francisco Symphony

We shall probably never know the truth about the Symphony No 6, as we’ll never know the truth behind the mystery surrounding Tchaikovsky’s death, but what is beyond argument is the man who’s regarded as the greatest Russian composer left a legacy of some of the most beautiful, stirring, emotional and elegant music ever written.

Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony in a recording of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 6, Pathétique, to be released in digital format on the (eight) Grammy Award-winning SFS Media label. The recording will be available for streaming and download on June 29th – full details of which can be found on the San Francisco Symphony website.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Symphony program and notes

Tchaikovskya biography by Anthony Holden, published by Bantam Press (1995) – from which all quotes were taken



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Daniil Trifonov set to wow San Francisco – with MTT and the SF Symphony

Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov appears with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony – Photo: ©

In their penultimate program of the 2017-18 season, Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony are joined by the sensational young Grammy-winning pianist, Daniil Trifonov, who closes his season-long residency with the Symphony in true Russian style – with the magnificent Piano Concerto No 3 by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

“Few artists have burst onto the classical music scene in recent years with the incandescence of the pianist Daniil Trifonov” writes the New York Times of the artist who has been described by The Times of London as “…. without question the most astounding young pianist of our age”.

This is Trifonov’s third appearance as a guest of the Symphony this season – his first having been a solo recital last October, in which he performed works by Chopin and by composers who were inspired by the Polish-French Romantic era virtuoso. In February, Trifonov was joined by his teacher and mentor, Sergei Babayan, for a recital of works which included a new piece by contemporary Italian composer, Mauro Lanza.

Prior to this week’s performance in San Francisco, Mr Trifonov completed his acclaimed Perspectives Series for the current season at Carnegie Hall, he appeared with Gidon Kremer and Kremerata Baltica, and presented his Decades recital program in Zankel Hall, which included an influential piece from each decade of the 20th century.

From San Francisco, Trifonov embarks on a tour which takes in the Grand Teton Music Festival with Donald Runnicles, the Aspen Music Festival, the Vail Music Festival – again with Donald Runnicles – and the Philadelphia Orchestra, back to Aspen for a performance of his own Piano Concerto with Ludovic Morlot and the Aspen Festival Orchestra, and to the Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden with Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra – all this before he even gets to the Verbier Festival where he performs in the festival’s 25th Anniversary Concert. And that’s only his calendar for July.

Before this whirlwind schedule, though, Daniil Trifonov pulls out all stops with Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto, which he describes as “..… a very powerful and sincere expression of a composer”. Said to be the composer’s favorite among his four piano concertos, it’s apparently also incredibly challenging from a technical point of view. The work was composed in 1909, specifically for Rachmaninoff’s North American tour, and it premiered on November 28th, 1909, with the composer as soloist, and the New York Symphony conducted by Walter Damrosch.

The concerto opens with an almost delicate, lilting melody, and no great orchestral flourishes – Rachmaninoff saves those for later – and those who love that great sumptuous sound so typical of this Russian composer aren’t to be disappointed. The work is as passionate as we’ve come to expect from Rachmaninoff, “…. with themes ranging from reflective moods to rolling thunder”, says Encyclopaedia Britannica. The music writer for the New York Herald declared it to be one of “the most interesting piano concertos of recent years,” whilst the New York Tribune picked up on the “essential dignity and beauty” of the work.

The work which opens this San Francisco Symphony concert is the first of two Sibelius symphonies – Nos 6 and 7 – which were composed almost in parallel with one another. They couldn’t, however, be more different.

Sibelius started writing his Sixth Symphony in 1918, and completed it in February 1923, when he led the Helsinki Municipal Orchestra in the world premiere. The work was well received by the critics, and also the audience, although they were somewhat surprised to hear a symphony from Sibelius that was so unlike those he’d written before – a work that he described as “… very tranquil in character and outline”. It’s a gentle work, conjuring up images of a pastoral landscape – light on water, birdsong and sweeping expanses of countryside. Sibelius qualified his description with the words: “Whereas most other modern composers are engaged in manufacturing cocktails of every hue and description, I offer the public pure cold water”.

The Symphony No 7, the last by Sibelius, was also started in 1918, but wasn’t completed until a year after the premiere of the No 6 – on March 2nd 1924. The work had its world premiere on March 24th of that year, with the composer again conducting the performance, this time by the Konsertförening Orchestra at the Auditorium in Stockholm, Sweden. This symphony, by contrast, is a grand work – by turns joyful and brooding, yet with moments of appealing lyricism. Tom Service in The Guardian describes it as “Sibelius’s most astonishing and fantastical symphony”, and “…. one of the most ambitious and extraordinary symphonies in the repertoire”.

Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony, with guest artist Daniil Trifonov, in works by Sibelius and Rachmaninoff, at Davies Symphony Hall from June 21st to June 24th. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.


Information sourced from:

Artist’s website

San Francisco Symphony Artist Spotlight – Conversation with Trifonov

San Francisco Symphony program notes:

Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No 3

Sibelius Symphony No 6

Sibelius Symphony No 7

The Guardian – Sibelius Symphony No 6 – Tom Service

The Guardian – Sibelius Symphony No 7


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MTT & San Francisco Symphony present concert version of Mussorgsky’s ‘Boris Godunov’

June is the month for impressive productions in San Francisco, and this week sees Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony mount a concert version of Modest Mussorgsky’s dramatic opera, Boris Godunov. With a host of international stars – including soloists from both the Mariinsky and Bolshoi theatre operas – MTT and the Symphony present, for the first time in San Francisco, a semi-staged interpretation of Mussorgsky’s depiction of the reign of 16th century Tsar, Boris Godunov.

The original version of Mussorgsky’s opera was completed in 1869, and a revised version in appeared in 1872. This costumed version – with original video projections and lighting designs – is largely based on the 1869 edition of the opera, which was inspired by Alexander Pushkin’s 1825 play, Boris Godunov. The opera premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg on February 8, 1874, conducted by Eduard Nápravník, with stage direction by Gennadiy Kondratyev, and starred Ivan Melnikov in the title role.

The actual story on which Pushkin’s play was based takes place in Russia following the death of the Tsar known as Ivan the Terrible who had killed his eldest son and heir in 1581, during an argument. The only legitimate surviving heir was Ivan’s second son, Fyodor, who was mentally unfit to rule. Godunov – who had been an adviser to Ivan – became the factual head of the country within a year of Fyodor acceding to the throne, and following Fyodor’s death some 13 years later, Godunov was duly proclaimed Tsar in 1598.

His reign coincided with what became known as the Time of Troubles in Russia – a period marked by foreign invasion, famine and plague – but Godunov’s worst problem arrived in 1601, in the form of a defrocked monk, a Pretender to the throne, who declared himself to be Dmitry, a third son of Ivan who had actually died some years previously. This Pretender had acquired a disparate band of supporters on his march to Moscow, but although Godunov’s forces managed to defeat them, he himself died in 1605, and following a coup against his family by a group of influential boyars (next in rank to a prince), the False Dmitry did indeed become Tsar.

Pushkin’s play, however, tells a different story. Although it revolves around the reign of Boris Godunov as Tsar, he – according to Pushkin – takes on the role reluctanctly, because he had been implicated in the death of Dmitry.  Godunov is, however, feted by the people who want to see him become Tsar, so in the year 1598, he accedes to their wishes.

Pimen, an aging monk and former soldier, relates the story of Dmitry’s death to a young novice named Grigory, telling him how Dmitry would have become Tsar had he lived. Grigory condemns Boris for his role in Dmitry’s death, and decides to see justice done by taking on the role of the Pretender to the throne. Prince Shuisky, a powerful boyar, tells Boris that Dmitry has appeared in Poland, and that he has the support of the Pope, the king and the nobles of that country. Shuisky is perplexed at how a supposedly dead child could become Tsar, but Boris knows the truth and is overcome by terror. Seeing visions of Dmitry’s ghost in his hallucinations, he begs God’s forgiveness for his crime.

Two years later, a special Council of Boyars in The Granovitaya Hall in the Kremlin is drawing up an edict against the Pretender. Shuisky arrives with an account of how he had seen Godunov in a state of anguish over his imagined vision of the death of Dmitry, but Boris insists that the boy is still alive, and threatens Shuisky with punishment for saying otherwise. Shuisky tells Godunov that the old monk, Pimen, is waiting outside for an audience with him, and when Godunov goes out to see what Pimen wants, he hears Pimen’s story about a shepherd, who had been blind from childhood, but who had regained his sight whilst praying at the grave of Dmitry.

At this news, Godunov collapses, and calls for his son Fyodor. Sensing that his life is coming to an end, he bids Fyodor farewell, instructing him to rule wisely, and to uphold the Orthodox faith. He prays for forgiveness as a bell solemnly tolls, and having appointed his son as the new Tsar, Boris Godunov dies.

Russian bass Stanislav Trofimov in a Mariinsky Theatre Opera production of ‘Boris Godunov’ – Photo courtesy San Francisco Symphony

The role of Boris Godunov in this production is taken by bass Stanislav Trofimov, a soloist of the Mariinsky Theatre Opera since 2016, and also a guest soloist of the Moscow Theatre Opera. Mr Trofimov has recently made a role debut as Procida in the Mariinsky’s new production of Verdi’s I Vespri Siciliani, and also as Zaccharia in Verdi’s Nabucco at the opening of the Arena Di Verona Summer Festival. He toured with the Bolshoi Theatre as the Archbishop in Tchaikovsky’s Maid of Orléans in France, and performed at the Salzburg Festival as the Priest in Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk with the Vienna Philharmonic under the baton of Mariss Jansons. Mr Trofimov returns to the Salzburg Festival this summer in Tchaikovsk’s Pique Dame and Bizet’s Les Pecheurs des Perles. Among performances lined up for next year are an appearance as Dosifey in a new production of Mussorgsky’s Chowanschina at Teatro alla Scala, in the title role in Glinka’s Ivan Susanin, and in Boris Godunov at the Mariinsky Theatre.

Cuban-American mezzo-soprano Eliza Bonet sings the role of Godunov’s son, Fyodor, in her debut with the San Francisco Symphony. As a member of the Merola Program at San Francisco Opera, Ms Bonet performed the role of Eunice in the company’s production of Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire, and covered the role of Zerlina in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Recent role debuts include Bradamante in Handel’s Alcina as a member of Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program, and Paquette in Bernstein’s Candide with Washington National Opera, both performances at the Kennedy Center. In the 2018-19 season, Ms Bonet takes the role of Reba in the World Premiere of Taking Up Serpents by Kamala Sankaram and Jerre Dye.


Soprano Jennifer Zetlan sings the role of Xenia, Godunov’s daughter, a role she has sung on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera, as well as in the Met in HD series. Other roles include appearances in Verdi’s Macbeth, Prokofiev’s War and Peace, Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto, Musetta in Puccini’s La bohème and Woglinde in Das Rheingold and Götterdämmerung, and The Forest Bird in Siegfried, in Seattle Opera’s 2013 production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

The role of the Nurse is taken by mezzo-soprano Silvie Jensen, a versatile artist who has appeared in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nünberg for Lyric Opera of Chicago and San Francisco Opera. In addition to her operatic roles, which include Carmen with American Chamber Opera in Chicago, Kashcheyevna in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Kashchey the Immortal, and Maddalena in Rigoletto with Island City Opera, and Olga in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin with One World Symphony, Ms Jensen has also created and performed new works at London’s Barbican Centre with Ornette Coleman, at Teatro Comunale di Ferrara with Meredith Monk, and at Carnegie Hall with Philip Glass.

The role of Prince Shuisky is taken by Russian tenor Yevgeny Akimov. An Honoured Artist of Russia, Mr Akimov was a recipient of Russia’s prestigious Golden Mask theatre prize in both 1997 and 2002, and twice received a Diploma of the Golden Sofit, St Petersburg’s most prestigious theatre prize, in 2001 and 2004. As a member of the Mariinsky Opera Company, Mr Akimov has appeared in a wide range of productions in the company’s vast repertoire, and has sung the tenor roles in concert performances of Mozart’s Requiem, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Mahler’s Eighth Symphony and Rachmaninoff’s vocal-symphonic poem The Bells. He has appeared in co-productions between the Mariinsky Theatre and San Francisco Opera (Prokofiev’s Betrothal in a Monastery), and also with La Scala (Boris Godunov), and internationally he has sung at the Metropolitan Opera, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the Opéra de Paris, the Teatro Regio in Turin and the National Grand Theatre of China in Beijing.


Russian-American baritone Aleksey Bogdanov – who reflects “”star quality in every way” says Opera News – takes the role of Andrei Shchelkalov, a boyar who is Secretary to the Duma. Apart from this first appearance with the San Francisco Symphony, Mr Bogdanov has this season also debuted with Arizona Opera as Scarpia in Puccini’s Tosca, and with Sarasota Opera as Sebastiano in d’Albert’s rarely-heard Tiefland. Other appearances include Lionel in Tchaikovsky’s The Maid of Orléans with Odyssey Opera, Four Villains in Les Contes d’Hoffmann with Opera North, and he covered the title role in Rubinstein’s The Demon with Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona.

Russian bass Maxim Kuzmin-Karavaev appears as the monk Pimen in this performance of Boris Godunov – a role he has also sung in Budapest, Debrecen and Liège. Other international appearances include those of Figaro at the Ischia Opera Festival in Italy, as Gianni Schicchi at the Opéra National de Lyon, Alfonso d’Este in Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia in Santiago de Chile, and Agamemnon in Tanayev’s Orestie in New York. A soloist at Novaya Opera Theatre in Moscow since 2007, Mr Kuzmin-Karavaev is also a regular guest soloist at the Bolshoi Theatre and the Galina Vishnevakaya Opera Centre. His concert performances include roles in Haydn’s Stabat Mater, the requiems of Schumann, Verdi, Mozart and Fauré, and in Rossini’s Petite messe solennelle.

Russian tenor Sergei Skorokhodov takes the role of the novice monk Grigory, which he has also sung at the Bayerische Staatsoper, München. A soloist with the Mariinsky Academy of Young Singers since 1999, he has appeared with the Mariinsky Opera at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, at Opéra National de Paris, at London’s Coliseum and Barbican Hall, the Royal Opera Stockholm, Mikkeli Music Festival in Finland and at the Red Sea Festival, Eilat, in Israel. For the Metropolitan Opera, Mr Skorokhodov has appeared as Ivan in Shostakovich’s The Nose, and has since sung the role of Vaudemont in Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, and at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Festival.

Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Symphony Chorus (Director Ragnar Bohlin), the Pacific Boychoir (Director Andrew Brown), and guest artists in a semi-staged version of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov at Davies Symphony Hall from June 14th to 17th. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Symphony program notes

Encyclopaedia Britannica


and artists’ websites:

Stanislav Trofimov

Eliza Bonet

Jennifer Zetlan

Silvie Jensen

Yevgeny Akimov

Aleksey Bogdanov

Maxim Kuzmin-Karavaev

Sergei Skorokhodov


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Cast of renowned Wagnerian artists for San Francisco Opera’s Ring cycle

San Francisco Opera has gathered a cast of internationally renowned Wagnerian artists for its momentous production of Der Ring des Nibelungen which opens at the War Memorial Opera House next week. Directed by Francesca Zambello, this ambitious staging of all four operas in Wagner’s Ring cycle once again has Donald Runnicles leading the San Francisco Opera Orchestra.

American bass-baritone Greer Grimsley takes the role of Wotan – the dynamic king of the gods with a magnetic personality, and a lust for power – and women. Regarded as one of the most prominent Wagnerian singers of today, and a leading interpreter of the role, Mr Grimsley sang Wotan in Robert Lepage’s production of the Ring cycle for the Metropolitan Opera in 2013, the same year in which he appeared in his third cycle for Seattle Opera. He has also appeared in the role in complete performances of the cycle with Deutsche Oper Berlin, Teatro Comunale di Bologna, under Daniele Gatti, at Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, and in Tokyo with New National Theatre Tokyo and the Nikikai Opera Foundation. Greer Grimsley first appeared with San Francisco Opera as Scarpia in the company’s 2001 production of Puccini’s Tosca, and in one of his return appearances took the title role in Wagner’s Der Fliegende Holländer.

German bass-baritone Falk Struckmann, in his first role for San Francisco Opera, sings the role of Alberich, the dwarf-like Nibelung, unlucky in love, who decides to give up on it altogether in favor of wealth. Stealing the gold of the Rhinemaidens in Das Rheingold, he sets off the train of action which runs through all four operas of the cycle, the character reappearing in both Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. Mr Struckmann has also sung the roles of Wotan, Fafner, Hunding and Hagen in previous performances of the Ring cycle, and made his debut at Teatro all Scala in Milan as Siegfried, under Riccardo Muti.

A scene from ‘Die Walküre’ the second opera in Wagner’s ‘Ring of the Nibelung cycle – Photo Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Tenor Štefan Margita made his San Francisco Opera debut as Walther von der Vogelweide in the fall 2007 production of Wagner’s Tannhäuser, and he made his highly-acclaimed role debut as Loge in the Company’s 2008 production of Das Rheingold. In this current production, he again takes the role of the fire god, Loge who – joined by Wotan – sets off to seize the ring which Alberich has forged from the gold stolen from the Rhinemaidens. This is a role which Mr Margita also sang for Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2016, following which the Chicago Tribune wrote: “Slovakian tenor Stefan Margita brought his definitive portrayal of Loge, the crafty demigod of fire, to Chicago for the first time and nearly walked away with the show”.

Swedish soprano Iréne Theorin appears in the role of Brünnhilde – a Valkyrie who is also Wotan’s daughter – in Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. Earlier this season, Ms Theorin sang Brünnhilde with Vienna State Opera, prior to which she has performed this role in many of the world’s great opera houses – including Milan’s Teatro alla Scala, the Metropolitan Opera, The Royal Opera, Covent Garden, Washington National Opera, Berlin State Opera, the Wagner Festival in Budapest, Oper Leipzig, Oper Köln, Semperoper Dresden, and the New National Theatre, Tokyo. Following her appearance at Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu, El Mundo described Ms Theorin as “a force of nature”. She first appeared with San Francisco Opera in the title role of the company’s 2011 production of Puccini’s Turandot.

In Die Walküre, Finnish soprano Karita Mattila sings the role of Sieglunde, daughter of Wotan, twin sister of Siegmund, wife of the thuggish Hunding, and mother of Siegfried – the child she bore as a result of her relationship with Siegmund. Ms Mattila made her debut in the role of Sieglunde at Houston Grand Opera in 2015, and following a 2017 performance of Act 1 of Die Walküre with the London Symphony Orchestra, The Telegraph wrote that she “….. radiated a quality of ecstatic incandescent abandon that went way beyond mere vocalizing – she was simply a woman who needed to be freed from misery, a woman who needed to give herself up to love”. Ms Mattila made her debut with San Francisco Opera as Ilia in the 1989 production of Mozart’s Idomeneo.

A scene from ‘Siegfried’ the third opera in Wagner’s ‘Ring of the Nibelung’ cycle – © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

In his debut performance with San Francisco Opera, American tenor Daniel Brenna appears in the title role in Siegfried, and portrays the same character Götterdämmerung. His performance in this role for Washington National Opera’s 2016 staging of the Ring (also directed by Francesca Zambello) prompted Communities Digital News to describe him as “The undoubted star of this production ….” while DC Metro Theater Arts described him as “…. simply amazing in every facet of this role”. Internationally, Mr Brenna has also sung the role of Siegfried in Budapest, Stuttgart, the Longborough Festival, and at Opéra de Dijon in 2013, where he appeared as Siegmund in Die Walküre as well.

Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton sings the role of Fricka, in Das Rheingold and Die Walküre. The goddess of marriage, she is also the wife of Wotan, who builds for her the fortress of Valhalla – partly to appease her angst at his constant straying, but in reality to reinforce his own power. A somewhat pure-minded soul, she it is who forces Wotan to sacrifice his son, Siegmund, when he falls in love with the girl who turns out to be his twin sister Sieglinde. Ms Barton also sings the role of the Second Norn (in a prologue to Götterdämmerung) and Waltraute, a Valkyrie, in the same opera – both of which she sang at Washington National Opera and Houston Grand Opera.

In Das Rheingold, tenor Brandon Jovanovich sings the role of Froh, the sun god, and he also appears in Die Walküre as Siegmund, the son of Wotan and a mortal woman. Mr Jovanovich performed in San Francisco Opera’s 2011 production of the Ring cycle, and has also appeared for the company as Walther von Stolzing in the 2015 staging of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and Wagner’s Lohengrin in 2012. This current season has seen him sing Siegmund in Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

The San Francisco Opera Chorus in Act II of Wagner’s ‘Götterdämmerung’, the fourth part of ‘The Ring of the Nibelung’ cycle – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Bass Andrea Silvestrelli appears as Fasolt – one of the giants commissioned by Wotan to build the fortress of Valhalla in Das Rheingold – and as Hagen, father of Alberich, in Götterdämmerung. Cunning, sharp and calculating, Hagen is one of several characters who covets the ring for its power, and he nearly succeeds, but is thwarted by Brünnhilde when she returns the ring to the Rhinemaidens before throwing herself on Siegfried’s funeral pyre. Mr Silvestrelli sang both Fasolt and Hagen in the San Francisco Opera production of the Ring cycle in 2011, and has also sung Fasolt at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. He has appeared as Fafner in Das Rheingold with National Taichung Theatre in Taiwan, and with Houston Grand Opera, and appeared in performances of the Ring cycle at the Tiroler Festspiele in Erl, Austria.

Bass Raymond Aceto takes two roles in this production of the Ring cycle. In Das Rheingold he appears as Fafner – who, together with Fasolt, has built the fortress Valhalla, ostensibly in return for Freia, the goddess of youth and beauty. In Die Walküre, Mr Aceto sings the role of Hunding, husband of Sieglunde – a role in which he made his debut in Zambello’s 2016 production of the Ring cycle for Washington National Opera, and one which he has previously sung for San Francisco Opera. In Siegfried, he returns to the role of Fafner who has now turned himself into a dragon, and is at this stage in possession of the cursed and powerful ring around which the entire drama revolves. Mr Aceto has also appeared as Fafner for Lyric Opera of Chicago, and has sung the roles of both Fafner and Fasolt for Dallas Opera.

All artists are scheduled to perform their roles in each of the three Ring cycles which take place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, from June 12–17, June 19–24 and June 26–July 1, 2018.

For more information on San Francisco Opera’s production of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, and for tickets, visit the San Francisco Opera website.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Opera program notes

Encyclopaedia Britannica (notes by Betsy Schwarm)

and artists’ websites:

Greer Grimsley

Falk Struckmann

Iréne Theorin

Karita Mattila

Stefan Margita

Jamie Barton

Brandon Jovanovich

Daniel Brenna

Raymond Aceto


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