World premiere for MTT & SF Symphony – & Yuja Wang plays Shostakovich


Yuja Wang © Norbert Kniat

Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony celebrate a world premiere by Chinese American composer Bright Sheng in a concert which features the incomparable talent of Yuja Wang, and works by two of the greatest Russian composers of the 20th century – Dmitri Shostakovich and Igor Stravinsky.

The world premiere is Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber Overture, a work commissioned by the Symphony, and dedicated to Michael Tilson Thomas. The appearance of this overture at the beginning of the 2016-17 season represents something of a double celebration, with San Francisco Opera’s world premiere of Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber having premiered at the War Memorial Opera House just a few weeks ago.


San Francisco Symphony Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas © Spencer Lowell

Although Sheng’s overture doesn’t actually form part of the score for the opera, much of it is drawn from segments of the score.  Based on one of the most important works in Chinese literature – a novel by Cao Xuequin, written during the Qing Dynasty – Dream of the Red Chamber tells of a love triangle involving the young heir to an illustrious family, his spiritual soulmate with whom he’s in love, and the daughter of a wealthy family – whom his mother is determined that he should marry.

Bright Sheng, who has studied under teachers such as Leonard Bernstein, Mario Davidovsky, George Perle, Hugo Weisgall and Chou Wen-chung, is the Leonard Bernstein Distinguished University Professor of Music at the University of Michigan, and a recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, the American Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and an ASCAP Achievement Award.


Composer Bright Sheng – Courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Yuja Wang – guest artist in the Shostakovich Piano Concerto No 1 – needs no introduction to San Francisco audiences, having won our hearts at her debut with the Symphony in 2006, and continued to dazzle us with her “blisterng technique” (the Sydney Morning Herald) and what the Los Angeles Times describes as her “nonchalant, brilliant keyboard virtuosity that would have made both Prokofiev (who was a great pianist) and even the fabled Horowitz jealous”.

Widely regarded as one of the world’s finest performers, Yuja Wang accrues honors at a rate which should come as no surprise. Included in these during the current season, are her appointment as Artist-in-Residence at China’s National Centre for the Performing Arts, as well as the Konserthuset in Stockholm. Other highlights of her season include a nine-concert Asian tour with MTT and the San Francisco Symphony, performances of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G with Gianandrea Noseda and the London Symphony Orchestra at New York’s Lincoln Center and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, a spring tour of Europe with the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia led by Antonio Pappano, and performances of the complete set of Bartók piano concertos with Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.


San Francisco Symphony Principal Trumpet Mark Inouye © Tim Swensen

Also featured in the Shostakovich work – officially titled Concerto No 1 in C minor for Piano, Trumpet, and Strings, Opus 35 – is San Francisco Symphony Principal Trumpet, Mark Inouye. With an impressive classical and jazz background, Mark Inouye has held principal trumpet positions with the Houston and Charleston symphonies, performed with the New York Philharmonic, the Israel Philharmonic and the New World Symphony. He was a soloist in A Jazzy Night – one of San Francisco Symphony’s 2015 summer concerts featuring both jazz and classics – and in Wynton Marsalis’s video production Marsalis on Music, which aired in Europe and North America. He was a founding member of the Juilliard Jazz Sextet at Lincoln Center and a guest performer at the Hollywood Bowl in the Playboy Jazz Festival.

Shostakovich intended his First Piano Concerto to be “joyous”, according to All Music, which also describes it as “ebullient” and a “madcap work”. The combination of Yuja Wang and this spirited concerto is likely to be simply terrific.

The first of Stravinsky’s two works is Le Chant du rossignol (The Song of the Nightingale) – a Symphonic Poem in Three Parts, adapted from his opera The Nightingale, which was based on a story by Hans Christian Andersen. In response to a commission from Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev, Stravinsky began writing the opera in 1908, but owing to other commissions from Diaghilev, didn’t resume work on it until 1913, completing it in the year of its Paris premiere in 1914.

Two years later, Diaghilev was keen to create a ballet to music drawn from the opera score, leading Stravinsky to transform it into a symphonic work which he called The Song of the Nightingale, and which he completed in 1917. It was 1920 before the first version of the ballet was staged in Paris by Diaghilev, with choreography by Leonid Massine – but the Symphonic Poem was premiered by Ernest Ansermet and the Suisse Romande Orchestra in 1919. What’s interesting about the ballet is that it wasn’t rapturously received, so in 1925 Stravinsky agreed to revive the score. On that occasion, Diaghilev appointed one of his newest students, George Balanchine, to choreograph it, which led to the creation of the Balanchine/Stravinsky partnership – one of the 20th century’s most successful collaborations between composer and choreographer.


Drawing by Léon Bakst of Tsarevitch Ivan capturing the Firebird, for the Ballets Russes’ ‘L’Oiseau de Feu ‘ – 1915 – courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The closing work in this San Francisco Symphony program is Stravinsky’s ballet suite The Firebird (L’Oiseau de Feu), which was premiered in Paris by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1910, with choreography by Michel Fokine. Stravinsky certainly wasn’t the impresario’s first choice – at least four other prominent Russian composers had rejected Diaghilev’s approach beforehand – but this composition marked a significant milestone in Stravinsky’s career. His musical portrayal of the ancient Russian fairytale about a bird with magical powers, and brilliant red feathers which flickered and glowed like flames, became his best loved and most widely performed score. It also marked the beginning of the highly successful collaboration between Diaghilev and Stravinsky, which, as we know, produced a stream of successes, including Petrouchka, The Rite of Spring and Pulcinella.

Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the San Francisco Symphony in two more performances of this program at Davies Symphony Hall – on Friday, September 30 and Saturday October 1. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website


Artist’s websites –
Yuja Wang
Bright Sheng

SF Symphony program notes –

Shostakovich Piano Concerto No 1 – James M Keller

Mark Inouye

Le Chant du rossignol – Michael Steinberg

The Firebird – Michael Steinberg


All Music

Encyclopaedia Britannica

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San Francisco Opera presents ‘Don Pasquale’ – à la Pelly


Heidi Stober as Norina in Donizetti’s ‘Don Pasquale’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Fun, farcical and frolicsome – Donizetti’s sparkling comedy Don Pasquale is the next production in San Francisco Opera’s fall season line-up. Throw in a dash of Laurent Pelly’s clever and creative design, and some fabulous Bel Canto specialists, and you have all the elements for a delightful evening at the opera.

San Francisco Opera’s Don Pasquale – a co-production with Santa Fe Opera and Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu – features bass–baritone Maurizio Muraro in the title role, tenor Lawrence Brownlee as Pasquale’s nephew Ernesto, soprano Heidi Stober as Norina, Ernesto’s love interest, and baritones Lucas Meachem and Edward Nelson, who share the role of Dr Malatesta. The San Francisco Opera Orchestra, Chorus (Director Ian Robertson) and cast are led by Guiseppe Finzi.


Lucas Meachem as Dr Malatesta and Maurizio Muraro in the title role of Donizetti’s ‘Don Pasquale’

Gaetano Donezetti’s three-act comic opera, with a libretto by Giovanni Ruffini and Donizetti himself, premiered on January 3, 1843, at the Théâtre-Italien in Paris.  It was last produced by San Francisco Opera in 1984, and – despite its comedic theme – also has moments of poignancy. The story revolves around the miserly old bachelor, Don Pasquale, who has decided to marry, produce an heir, and thus prevent Ernesto from inheriting his wealth. Pasquale sets his sights on the young widow, Norina, but she’s Ernesto’s sweetheart, so Dr Malatesta – a friend of Pasquale and the young couple – devises a plan which involves Norina impersonating his sister, Sofronia, to trick the old man into a false marriage, hoping to save him from his own foolishness, and also to help Ernesto and Norina.  Needless to say, the result is that Pasquale’s whole world – rather literally in this production – is turned upside down.


Lucas Meachem (Dr Malatesta), Heidi Stober (Norina), Lawrence Brownlee (Ernesto) and Maurizio Muraro (Don Pasquale) in a scene from Donizetti’s ‘Don Pasquale © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

This is the third opera which Laurent Pelly has staged for San Francisco Opera. The French director and designer made his Company debut in 2009 with his staging of Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment – for which he’d received acclaim at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the Vienna State Opera and the Metropolitan Opera – and in 2013 he returned to the War Memorial Opera House to direct Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffman. His staging for Don Pasquale involves the use of a rotating stage, facilitating scene changes without the need for breaks. Pelly describes Don Pasquale as “a masterpiece of comedy and music together. It has as its ancestor the Italian commedia dell’arte, but in the settings and, above all, in the costumes, we refer to the golden age of Italian film comedies, that is to say, the films of the 1950s and early 1960s”. Opera News refers to Pelly’s production as “an absurdist feast”.

Italian bass-baritone Maurizio Muraro – who sang the role of Doctor Bartolo in San Francisco Opera’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia in 2013 – is known as a versatile performer, having made his name in both dramatic and comedy roles, but with a particular penchant for the latter. He has been described by New York Classical Review as “a quintessential buffo bass” and commended for the “veritable patter clinic” which he produces in the lively arias of Rossini and Donizetti’s 19th century comedies.

American soprano Heidi Stober sings the role of Norina – and Sofronia, the sharp-tongued harridan who torments Pasquale.  Ms Stober is a popular figure at the War Memorial Opera House, having made her Company debut in 2010 as Sophie in Massenet’s Werther. Among her more recent roles are Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro, Pamina in The Magic Flute, Magnolia Hawkes in Show Boat, Oscar in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera, and Johanna in Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. Opera News refers to Miss Stober as “the complete package: a winsome presence along with an instrument of stunning brilliance, proportion and beauty”.


Lawrence Brownlee as Ernesto in Donizetti’ ‘Don Pasquale’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Internationally renowned African-American tenor Lawrence Brownlee, who makes his San Francisco Opera debut in the role of Ernesto, was widely acclaimed for his creation of the title role in Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, Daniel Schnyder’s 2015 opera about the legendary jazz saxophonist. The Wall Street Journal wrote of him as “the splendid tenor Lawrence Brownlee” who “commands the stage, his pure, forthright tenor pulsating with the spirit of the man”.


Lucas Meachem as Dr. Malatesta and Heidi Stober as Norina in Donizetti’s ‘Don Pasquale’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Dr Malatesta, the chief conspirator, is sung in four performances by Lucas Meachem, a former Adler Fellow and Merola Opera Program alumnus, who delighted San Francisco audiences last year as Figaro in Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Other appearances for the Company include the title roles in both Don Giovanni and Eugene Onegin, that of Count Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro, and roles in La Forza del Destino, Billy Budd, Doktor Faust, and The Magic Flute for Kids.

The two remaining performances are sung by current San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow, Edward Nelson, who appears as Fleville in the Company’s season opener Andrea Chénier, in Dream of the Red Chamber, and who will be seen as Yamadori in Madame Butterfly.

Don Pasquale is sung in Italian with English supertitles and will run for six performances between September 28 and October 15. Further information on the production and tickets can be found on the San Francisco Opera website.


Maurizio Muraro

Lawrence Brownlee

Heidi Stober

Lucas Meachem

Edward Nelson


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Met Opera Celebrates 50th anniversary of Lincoln Center home


A scene from Mariusz Treliński’s ‘Tristan und Isolde’ for the Metropolitan Opera © Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

The Metropolitan Opera celebrates the 50th anniversary of its Lincoln Center home this season, with a production of Wagner’s epic drama, Tristan und Isolde. It was in 1966 that The Metropolitan Opera House took its place alongside the Avery Fischer Hall (now the David Geffen Hall) – home of the New York Philharmonic – and the David H Koch Theater – home of the New York City Ballet – in the city’s celebrated Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

The opening work of this, the Company’s 132nd season, is a new staging of Wagner’s opera by Polish director, Mariusz Treliński, with Swedish soprano Nina Stemme and Australian tenor Stuart Skelton in the title roles. The performance is conducted by Sir Simon Rattle – marking his first Met opening night, and his first appearance with the Company since his debut in 2010.

In an illustrious career, Sir Simon has served as Principal Guest Conductor of the Rotterdam and Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestras, as Principal Conductor and Artistic Adviser of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and as the Orchestra’s Music Director from 1990 to 1998.  A Founding Patron of the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, and Principal Artist of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Maestro Rattle became Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Berlin Philharmonic in 2002. In September 2017, he takes up the position of Music Director of the London Symphony Orchestra.


Stuart Skelton and Nina Stemme in Wagner’s ‘Tristan und Isolde’ © Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Nina Stemme’s first appearance on the Met stage was in the role of Senta in another Wagner opera, Der Fliegende Holländer, and in this 2016-17 season opener, she makes her role debut for the Met as Isolde – a role for which she has received wide acclaim in performances at the Glyndebourne and Bayreuth festivals, the Vienna State Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin and Zurich Opera. Ms Stemme received a Laurence Olivier Award in 2010 for her interpretation of Isolde at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and her appearance at Houston Grand Opera in 2013 was described by the Wall Street Journal as “matchless”, adding “Her supple, alluring voice with its rich low register, blazing top notes and gleaming, sustained power that fearlessly rides the orchestra is matched by her intelligent, committed acting”. In the Met production on October 27, Nina Stemme will mark her 100th performance as Isolde.


René Pape as King Marke and Stuart Skelton as Tristan in ‘Tristan und Isolde’ © Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Stuart Skelton – named Male Singer of the Year at the 2014 International Opera Awards – is regarded as one of today’s finest heldentenors. He made his debut with the Metropolitan Opera in 2011 as the Drum-Major in Berg’s Wozzeck, followed by his appearance as Siegmund in Wagner’s Die Walküre, and has previously sung the role of Tristan at the Baden-Baden Festival and at English National Opera. One of Mr Skelton’s most successful roles is that of the title role in Britten’s Peter Grimes, which The Arbuturian described as “nothing short of stunning”, and to which The Sunday Times referred as “surely the finest on a London stage since the celebrated Jon Vickers”. He has twice been the recipient of the Sir Robert Helpmann Award – the first for his performance of Siegmund in The Ring Cycle for a 2005 production by the State Opera of South Australia, and more recently for his 2010 portrayal of Peter Grimes for Opera Australia.


Nina Stemme and Stuart Skelton in Wagner’s ‘Tristan und Isolde’ © Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Polish film and theater director Mariusz Treliński – presently artistic director of Warsaw’s Polish National Opera – made his debut as an opera director at the Grand Theatre in Warsaw in 1995, with Elżbieta Sikora’s Wyrywacz serc / The Usurper of Hearts. In 1999 he returned to the Grand Theatre with a production of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, which he then staged at the Washington Opera in 2001, at the invitation of Placido Domingo. This production was also staged at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg in 2005, and by the New Israeli Opera in 2008. Mariusz Treliński’s first production for the Met was a double bill of Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta and Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle, in 2015. For this production of Tristan und Isolde, Marius Treliński has once again drawn together the same design team as in 2015 – scenic design by Boris Kudlička, costumes by Marek Adamski, lighting by Marc Heinz, projection design by Bartek Macias, and choreography by Tomasz Wygoda.


Stuart Skelton as Tristan in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of ‘Tristan und Isolde’ © Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

The last two performances of Tristan und Isolde will be conducted by Asher Fisch, who has led five productions at the Met, the first having been Lehár’s The Merry Widow in 2000, and the most recent was Wagner’s Parsifal in the 2012-13 season.

In line with the Company’s commitment of increasing the accessibility of opera to a wider audience, the Metropolitan Opera’s opening night will continue the tradition of broadcasting the live performance to numerous giant screens in Times Square. This performance will also be broadcast live on Metropolitan Opera Radio on SIRIUS XM Channel 74 – as will the performances on October 3 and October 13 – and it will be streamed live on the Met’s web site,

The October 8 matinee performance of Tristan und Isolde will also launch the 11th season of the Met’s Live in HD series, taking the 100th worldwide transmission in this series to more than 2,000 movie theaters in 70 countries around the world.


Nina Stemme as Isolde and Ekaterina Gubanova as Brangäne in Wagner’s ‘Tristan und Isolde’ © Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera.

The Metropolitan Opera’s production of Tristan und Isolde runs at the Metropolitan Opera House from September 26 to October 27. For more information on performances, performers, and for tickets, visit


The Metropolitan Opera

Sir Simon Rattle

Nina Stemme

Stuart Skelton

Mariusz Treliński


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Christian McBride Residency at SFJAZZ


Christian McBride

Downbeat calls him “One of the premier musicians of his generation … “, he’s regarded as one of the world’s most versatile bassists, is a four-time GRAMMY winner, has appeared on over 300 recordings, is the host of NPR’s Jazz Night in America, and is Resident Artistic Director of SFJAZZ – this is Christian McBride, whose 5-day residency at the JAZZ Center begins this evening.

This virtuoso jazz musician opens his residence with a Listening Party in the SFJAZZ ‘living room’, where he and Executive Artistic Director Randall Kline invite the audience to sit in on their discussion, as McBride explores the part played by the bass in the history of jazz, presenting his “unique and priceless perspective on this most misunderstood part of the rhythm section” (SFJAZZ).  According to The New York Times, “The deep, dark-maple tone that Christian McBride elicits from an upright bass is one of jazz’s forthright pleasures”.

McBride illustrates this conversation with a selection of recorded and live excerpts, and members of the audience will get an opportunity to ask questions, before attending a reception with the man whom Variety describes as “The musician with the technical, compositional and emotional skills to take jazz to another plane”.

Listening Party with Christian McBride takes place in the Miner Auditorium at SFJAZZ on Tuesday, September 20, at 7.30 pm. For more information and tickets, visit the SFJAZZ website.


The following evening, SFJAZZ presents A Christian McBride Situation – part of his electro-funk Situation project, which features a group of individual musicians whose initial meeting at the 2005 Monterey Jazz Festival was coincidental, but who were clearly destined to perform together. When two of McBride’s band members were unable to attend the festival, he called on some of the other performers present to complete his group – including keyboardist Patrice Rushen, saxophonist Ron Blake, and DJ Logic on turntables – resulting in an evening of hugely successful improvisation. In time, McBride added more artists to the group, including a second DJ, Jahi Sundance, who appears at SFJAZZ this week with McBride, Patrice Rushen, DJ Logic, Ron Blake on tenor saxophone and vocalist Alyson Williams.

A Christian McBride Situation takes over the Miner Auditorium on Thursday, September 22 at 7.30 pm. Tickets and more information can be found on the SFJAZZ website.

Always receptive to new musical environments, and constantly seeking new collaborators, Christian McBride presents the West Coast debut of his recently formed New Jawn Quartet on Friday evening. The group features four musicians who are regarded as some of the most forward-thinking jazz artists around today. Trumpeter Josh Evans, a protégé of Jackie McLean, is a former bandleader who has worked with drummers Rashied Ali, T S Monk, and Winard Harper. Saxophonist Marcus Strickland topped both the DownBeat Critics and Readers Polls for Rising Star Saxophonist, and has appeared with Roy Haynes, Dave Douglas, and Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts. Drummer Nasheet Waits is a founding member of pianist Jason Moran’s Bandwagon trio and has performed with some of the jazz world’s finest, including Andrew Hill, Fred Hersch and Antonio Hart.

Christian McBride’s New Jawn Quartet perform in the Miner Auditorium on Friday, September 23, at 7.30 pm. More information and tickets are available on the SFJAZZ website.


There’s a Family Matinee on Saturday morning – at 11.00 am – in the Miner Auditorium, in which Christian McBride demonstrates just why improvisation and fearlessness are such important elements in jazz. Following the concert, there’s an interactive workshop in Orff percussion – free to concertgoers – in the Joe Henderson Lab, with music educator Doug Goodkin and Friends.

Saturday evening is given over to the Christian McBride Big Band. McBride has an extraordinary number of achievements to his name – from sessions with illustrious jazz musicians such as Sonny Rollins, McCoy Tyner, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson and Pat Metheny, to collaborating with the likes of Kathleen Battle and Sting, and playing a vital role in many all-star projects – such as the Five Peace Band with John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Kenny Garrett and Vinnie Colaiuta (and Brian Blade).  He has also overseen jazz programming at Disney Hall and the Hollywood Bowl, but until the release of The Good Feeling in 2011, he’d never recorded an album with his own big band – and this one was awarded a  GRAMMY for Best Large Ensemble Jazz Album the following year. The artists appearing with McBride on Saturday evening haven’t yet been announced, but we can be sure of a fabulous line-up.

The Christian McBride Big Band appears in the Miner Auditorium on Saturday, September 24, at 7.30 pm. More information and ticketing details can be found on the SFJAZZ website.


Dee Dee Bridgewater – courtesy SFJAZZ

In the final performance of his residency, Christian McBride shares the stage with triple GRAMMY-winning vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater. Known to be as adventurous in her musical exploration as is McBride, Dee Dee Bridgewater has enjoyed success wherever she’s found herself in the years since her New York debut with the Thad Jones and Mel Lewis Orchestra in the early 70s. Among her achievements are a TONY® Award – as Best Featured Actress in Lady Wiz – an Olivier Award – for her portrayal of Billie Holiday in Stephen Stahl’s Lady Day – and France’s top honor, Victoire de la Musique for Best Jazz Vocal Album. She’s recorded a series of superb albums, is a UN Goodwill Ambassador, a producer, head of a record label, and a jazz legend.

Christian McBride and Dee Dee Bridgewater are in the Miner Auditorium on Sunday afternoon, September 25, at 4.00 pm. For tickets and further information, visit the SFJAZZ website.


Christian McBride

Dee Dee Bridgewater



SFJAZZ program notes

Artists’ websites

Photographs of Christian McBride courtesy of the artist’s website


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New concert format from MTT and San Francisco Symphony


Ever creative, ever enterprising, San Francisco Symphony Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas has devised a new concert format which he and the Symphony will be introducing on Sunday afternoon.

MTT calls it a Discovery Concert the purpose of which is to explore Beethoven’s Symphony No 5, to find out what it is about this symphony that makes it stand out, not only among Beethoven’s other works, but also among works by other composers.  MTT describes this symphony as “an extraordinary journey of the human spirit”, during which the composer seems to float the idea that even if we feel angry, happy, confused, “somehow or another we find our way toward joyousness, freedom, liberation”.

Tilson Thomas both conducts and leads this concert, which includes discussion, demonstrations at the piano, and projections illustrating other pieces of music, literature and art which provide a background to this work.  It features orchestral and choral excerpts from other works – by Beethoven, Monteverdi and J S Bach – performed by the Symphony and members of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, director Ragnar Bohlin.  In the second half of the concert, MTT and the Symphony give a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No 5 in its entirety.

The Discovery Concert by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus takes place at Davies Symphony Hall on Sunday, September 18, at 2.00 pm. Tickets are available at, by phone at 415-864-6000, and at the Davies Symphony Hall Box Office, on Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street in San Francisco.

Michael Tilson Thomas

San Francisco Symphony

San Francisco Symphony Chorus


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San Francisco – documentary with a difference

Trailer for ‘San Francisco Beyond the Postcard’  © Christian Jeunet

The Tuesday movie this week – and next – at the San Francisco Alliance Française features a two-part documentary on the city by French filmmaker Christian Jeunet.

Entitled San Francisco Beyond the Postcard, this documentary aims to celebrate what’s wonderful about the city, apart from those attractions which are well known to visitors the world over.  To achieve this, Jeunet – who has apparently been working on this project over the course of eight years – does, of course, include footage of all those natural and man-made attractions which make San Francisco famous, but he also turns his lens on the people who live here, and whose individual cultures and personalities contribute to the charm and appeal that make this city unique, those  who represent the diversity of its many neighborhoods and communities.  He allows San Franciscans to describe what it is that they love about the city, and why they choose to live here.

Part 1 of this series will be shown at the Alliance Française, 1345 Bush Street, on Tuesday, September 13, at 7.00 pm. Admission is free, but a donation of $5 is suggested. Part 2 will follow at the Alliance Française on September 20.


San Francisco Alliance Francaise


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San Francisco Opera presents world premiere of ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’


Scene from ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’ with Yijie Shi as Bao Yu (front left) and Pureum Jo as Dai Yu (front right)

In the second production of its new season at the War Memorial Opera House this week, San Francisco Opera presents the world premiere of Dream of the Red Chamber, a Company commission, and a co-production with the Hong Kong Arts Festival. Dream of the Red Chamber is based on the classic 18th century Chinese novel by Cao Xueqin, with a score by composer Bright Sheng, who co-wrote the libretto with David Henry Hwang.  It’s to be performed as part of the Hong Kong Arts Festival’s 45th annual festival in March 2017, at the Grand Theatre in the Hong Kong Cultural Centre.


Yijie Shi as Bao Yu and  Pureum Jo as Dai Yu

Dream of the Red Chamber – which is as much of a classic in Chinese literary culture as is Romeo and Juliet in the Western World – revolves around a love triangle in which Bao Yu, the young heir of the illustrious Jia family, finds himself enmeshed.  He is in love with Dai Yu, his spiritual soulmate, but is also attracted to Bao Chai, who is beautiful and more worldly than Dai Yu.  In addition, Bao Chai comes from the wealthy Xue Clan, and Bao Yu’s mother, Lady Wang, has it in mind to arrange for her son to marry this wealthy heiress, in the hope that the Jia family will be able to repay a long-standing debt to the Imperial Court.  This becomes of increasing importance when the Emperor rejects Princess Jia as his favored concubine, and the Jia family’s wealth is threatened, along with Bao Yu’s desired union with Dai Yu.

The tale is related by a mysterious figure, The Monk, in a series of dreamlike sequences, starting with a prologue in which he tells of a stone which was left behind from the construction of Heaven, and a crimson pearl flower, which was nurtured for 3,000 years by dew from the stone. Stone and Flower wish to fulfil their love as mortals on earth, and – despite The Monk’s advice to the contrary – they travel to earth through a magic mirror. Bao Yu and Dai Yu are the human incarnations of Stone and Flower.


Pureum Jo as Dai Yu

Chinese-American Bright Sheng – also a conductor and pianist – is regarded as one of today’s foremost composers, whose works are regularly performed throughout North America, Europe and Asia. In 2001 he was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, and described by the Foundation as “an innovative composer who merges diverse musical customs in works that transcend conventional aesthetic boundaries”.  In the same year, Mr Sheng was also the recipient of an American Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and won an ASCAP Achievement Award the following year.


Irene Roberts as Bao Chai, Hyona Kim as Lady Wang, Yanyu Guo as Aunt Xue and Yijie Shi as Bao Yu

David Gockley, General Director Emeritus of San Francisco Opera – who commissioned the work – says:  “In conversations with Bright, I asked that Dream of the Red Chamber be composed in a beautifully lyrical style, nostalgic, and retain aspects of a traditional Chinese soundscape. I’m very pleased to say that he has indeed succeeded in these efforts.”


Karen Chia-ling Ho as Princess Jia, Qiulin Zhang as Granny Jia and Hyona Kim as Lady Wang

From the outset, an English libretto to the opera was planned, to make it easily accessible to non-Chinese-speaking audiences.  Chinese-American playwright David Henry Hwang – America’s most-produced living opera librettist, according to Opera News – has also been described by Time magazine as “the first important dramatist of American public life since Arthur Miller”.  He is probably best known for his 1998 Tony Award-winning play M. Butterfly, which also won Drama Desk, John Gassner and Outer Critics Circle awards, and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist.  Included in Mr Hwang’s musicals are a Tony-nominated new book for Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song, and Disney’s Tarzan.


Irene Roberts as Bao Chai and Yijie Shi as Bao Yu

The cast of Dream of the Red Chamber comprises mainly Asian artists – both established and rising singers. Chinese tenor Yijie Shi and South Korean soprano Pureum Jo make their San Francisco Opera debuts as the lovers Bao Yu and Dai Yu.  Also making her Company debut is South Korean mezzo-soprano Hyona Kim as Lady Wang, and Japanese-American mezzo-soprano Irene Roberts is the beautiful Bao Chai. Ms Roberts will be remembered for her recent appearance in the title role of San Francisco Opera’s production of Carmen.

Chinese contralto Qiulin Zhang appears for the first time in the United States in the role of Granny Jia, the clan elder who attempts to secure a happy future for Bao Yu and Dai Yu, and Taiwanese soprano – and Merola Opera Program alumna – Karen Chia-ling Ho is the rejected concubine Princess Jia.  Chinese-American mezzo-soprano – and former San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow – Yanyu Guo is Aunt Xue, and Japanese-American Bay Area actor Randall Nakano make his San Francisco Opera debut in the non-singing role of The Monk.


Randall Nakano as The Monk

Dream of the Red Chamber is directed by award-winning playwright, director and translator Stan Lai – his first for San Francisco Opera – who is known as one of the most celebrated theatre artists in the Chinese-speaking world.  Sets and costumes are by Tim Yip, Academy Award-winning designer of Crouching Tiger – Hidden Dragon, for which he also won a BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) for costume design.

The San Francisco Opera Orchestra, Chorus (Director Ian Robertson) and Dance Corps will be conducted by George Manahan, Director of Orchestral Activities at the Manhattan School of Music, Music Director of the American Composers Orchestra and of the Portland Opera.

Dream of the Red Chamber opens at the War Memorial Opera House on Saturday, September 10, and runs for six performances, until September 29. It is sung in English, with Chinese and English supertitles. For more information visit the San Francisco Opera website Tickets are available online and from 415-864-3330.

All photographs © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera


San Francisco Opera program notes

Artists’ websites:

Bright Sheng

David Henry Hwang

Stan Lai 

Tim Yip

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San Francisco Opera opens new season with Giordano’s ‘Andrea Chénier’


Yonghoon Lee in the title role of Giordano’s ‘Andrea Chénier’

San Francisco Opera launches its 94th Season at the War Memorial Opera House this week with two premieres – the first US performance of Sir David McVicar’s sumptuous new production of Giordano’s Andrea Chénier, followed by the world premiere of Bright Sheng and David Henry Hwang’s Dream of the Red Chamber. It’s also the inaugural season of the Company’s new General Director, Matthew Shilvock.

The ‘firsts’ for Andrea Chénier don’t end there, either, for this new production features a number of  Company debuts, among them those of the three artists singing the leading roles. South Korean tenor Yonghoon Lee appears in the title role – the romantic poet who falls victim to the terror of the French Revolution. Italian soprano Anna Pirozzi is the aristocrat, Maddalena di Coigny, with whom Chénier is in love, and Georgian baritone George Gagnidze sings the role of Carlo Gérard, the servant whose rise to power and whose love for Maddalena further fuels the dramatic fire.


Yonghoon Lee as Andrea Chénier, and Anna Pirozzi as Maddalena di Coigny (standing, second from left)

Andrea Chénier, with libretto by Luigi Illica, premiered at La Scala, Milan, on March 28, 1896.  This work also has a place in the annals of San Francisco Opera, for it was the second production of the Company’s inaugural season in 1923.  It was conducted by the Company’s founder, Gaetano Merola, and the performance on September 27 of that year starred the famous tenor Beniamino Gigli in the title role.

Set during the time of the French Revolution, Andrea Chénier was inspired by a real-life character, the Romantic poet and journalist André Chénier, who was imprisoned in March 1794, during the Reign of Terror, for supposed ‘crimes against the state’. Four months later, he was guillotined, a few days before the fall of Revolutionary leader Maximilien Robespierre, an event which, it is said, could have saved Chénier’s life.


George Gagnidze (center) as Carlo Gérard in Giordano’s ‘Andrea Chénier’

In Giordano’s opera, Chénier offers Maddalena protection when she loses everything in the turbulence of the Revolution, but Gérard – driven by his jealousy of Chénier – condemns him, and has him arrested. When Maddelena makes a desperate appeal to save Chénier, Gérard, in a change of heart, tries to defend him. He helps Maddelena to join Chénier in prison, but is unable to prevent both lovers from facing the guillotine together.

Yonghoon Lee, described as “dramatically intense and vocally elegant” by The New York Times, is regarded as one of the leading tenors of his generation. Highlights of his last season include the roles of Don José in Carmen at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and at Opera Australia in Sydney; Turiddu in Cavalleria Rusticana at the Royal Opera House and The Metropolitan Opera;  and Manrico in Il trovatore at The Metropolitan Opera and Munich’s Bayerische Staatsoper. Among his roles in this new season, Mr Lee sings Tiriddu again – at the Opéra Nationale de Paris – the title role in Don Carlos at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Pollione in Norma for Dallas Opera, and Manrico at Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona.


Yonghoon Lee in the title roleof Giordano’s ‘Andrea Chénier’

Anna Pirozzi – to whom ACLI Milano refers as “one of the most interesting Italian sopranos of our times”, with “a gorgeous rich tone” (Bachtrack) – is a relative newcomer to the operatic stage. She made her debut as Abigaille in Nabucco, at the 2013 Salzburg Festival, and is considered one of the leading sopranos of the Italian dramatic repertory. Among her recent engagements are the title role in Tosca at Deutsche Oper in Berlin, Abigaille at the Palau de les Arts Valencia and the Arena di Verona, and Elvira in Ernani at Rome Opera. Her 2016 schedule includes appearances in the title role of Adriana Lecouvrer at Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, four more appearances as Abigaille – at Teatro Verdi di Salerno, Opera de Monte-Carlo, Staatstheater Stuttgart and Teatro alla Scala, Milan – and two as Lady MacBeth – at Teatro Regio di Torino and Teatro Real de Madrid.

George Gagnidze has been thrilling audiences since his debut performance as Rigoletto at the Metropolitan Opera in 2009, and is regarded as one of the leading singers of his genre. According to José Carreras, “He is not just born for Rigoletto. He is Rigoletto”. Following Mr Gagnidze’s performance of the role at the Met last November, The Epoch Times wrote that he “again demonstrated why he is in the top rank of current baritones”. San Francisco audiences will have another opportunity to see Mr Gagnidze, when he returns to San Francisco Opera in November to sing the role of Amonasro in Aida.


Yonghoon Lee as Andrea Chénier and Anna Pirozzi as Maddalena di Coigny in Act IV of Giordano’s ‘Andrea Chénier’

Sir David McVicar is well known to opera lovers here, his 2015 productions of Berlioz’s Les Troyens and Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg having proved enormously popular. This production of Andrea Chénier – a co-presentation with The Royal Opera, Covent Garden, and the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing – was described by The Telegraph as “powerful …. handsome and efficient”. Personally directed by Sir David, it features sets by Robert Jones and costumes by Jenny Tiramani.

Nicola Luisotti, in his eighth season with the Company, leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Chorus Director Ian Robertson) in a score which is described as “powerful and melodic”, and “filled with soaring arias and duets” (SF Opera). In addition to performances with San Francisco Opera, Maestro Luisotti’s recent engagements include Rigoletto at Teatro Real Madrid, at Teatro alla Scala Milan, and at Opéra Bastille in Paris; as well as Il Trittico and La Traviata at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden.

San Francisco Opera’s production of Andrea Chénier is sung in Italian with English supertitles, and opens at the War Memorial Opera House on September 9, running for six performances until September 30. For more information, visit the San Francisco Opera website. Tickets can be reserved online, or by calling 415-864-3330.

Dream of the Red Chamber will be covered in the next post on Preview.

All photographs  © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera



San Francisco Opera program notes

Encyclopaedia Britannica

The Royal Opera House program notes

Artists’ websites:

Yonghoon Lee

Anna Pirozzi

George Gagnidze


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Monte-Carlo celebrates the 2016 Russian Gala Project

Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night returns to the Riviera this month, in a widely acclaimed adaptation for ballet by Boris Eifman, who brings his celebrated company of dancers to the Grimaldi Forum for only two performances of his latest creation, Up and Down.

The Eifman Ballet of Saint Petersburg comes to Monte-Carlo to mark the fifth anniversary of the Russian Gala Project, an ongoing representation of Russian culture on the Côte d’Azur. There’s a discernible thread linking Monaco, this production as a celebration of the Project, and Fitzgerald’s novel. Monaco’s cultural history is, of course, closely entwined with Sergei Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes, dating back to the early part of the 20th century, and the first part of Tender is the Night is set on a stretch of the Riviera coast “half way between Marseilles and the Italian border – a location widely believed to be Antibes, where the Fitzgeralds holidayed with their friends, Gerald and Sara Murphy.


Eifman’s ballet is also set on the Côte d’Azur, during the Jazz Age, and it, too, revolves around the relationship between a successful and charismatic psychiatrist and one of his patients. “Up and Down is a tragic and bright chronicle of a person’s spiritual death,” says Eifman. “The story about how a dream of happiness turns into a disaster, and an externally beautiful and carefree life – flowing to the rhythms of jazz – into a nightmare”.


This is not to say, however, that the ballet is a bleak and desperate affair. It features plenty of jazz, and some wonderfully innovative choreography, recreating the risqué and sensual self-indulgence of an era which has never ceased to fascinate. The score includes music by George Gershwin, of course, and there are also pieces by Franz Schubert and Alban Berg.


Boris Eifman, who established his company in 1977, is described as “a philosopher choreographer”. “I create ballets of a different kind,” he says, “where self-expression becomes the subject and in which there is drama, philosophy, characters and an idea.” He views ballet as “opportunity, through movement, not only to express some sort of form and line, but to convey a flood of emotions, energy, ideas…”

The Eifman Ballet of Saint Petersburg presents Up and Down at the Grimaldi Forum, Monte-Carlo, on 9th and 10th September. Tickets are available online.


This article first appeared on the Riviera Buzz website


Eifman Ballet St Petersburg

Gala Russe

The Auditorium Theatre

Grimaldi Forum

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MTT & San Francisco Symphony launch new Season with a Gala Concert


Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony © Bill Swerbenski

September is always an exciting month at Davies Symphony Hall, as Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony launch their new Season with a Gala Concert.

This year’s fun-filled extravaganza features a fabulous performance by MTT and the Symphony, with guest stars Renée Fleming – “possessor of the most sheerly beautiful soprano voice on the planet” (The Telegraph) – and the “exquisite” Susan Graham (Richard Ouzounian, – both of whom hold a special place in the hearts of American opera lovers.

During the 2015-16 Season, Renée Fleming appeared in the Metropolitan Opera premiere of Lehar’s The Merry Widow, and reprised the role of Hanna Glawari at Lyric Opera of Chicago – both productions conducted by Sir Andrew Davis.  Sir Andrew also led Lyric Opera’s production of Strauss’ Capriccio in which Ms Fleming appeared as the Countess Madeleine, and she sang this role again with conductor Christian Thielemann at the Semperoper Dresden. In April this year, she made her Broadway debut as an actress in the comedy Living on Love, which earned her a nomination for a Drama League Award, and in another achievement of the Season, she curated the creation of a world-premiere opera based on the best-seller Bel Canto for Lyric Opera of Chicago.


Soprano Renée Fleming © Decca/Timothy White

Susan Graham, in one of her first performances of the past season, appeared as Countess Geschwitz in a new production of Berg’s Lulu for the Metropolitan Opera, returning at the end of last year for a revival of Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus, in the role of Prince Orlovsky. More recently Susan Graham returned to Europe with her recital program, centered around Schumann’s song cycle Frauenliebe und -leben (A Woman’s Love and Life). Accompanied by pianist Malcolm Martineau, she also performed this recital at the Opéra National de Bordeaux and at Madrid’s Teatro Real. Ms Graham made her debut performances as the actress Clairon in Capriccio at Santa Fe Opera, under the baton of Leo Hussain, and appeared with Nicholas McGegan, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Los Angeles Master Chorale at the Hollywood Bowl for an evening of Handel favorites.

Renée Fleming and Susan Graham will appear together at the opening of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 2016-17 season, in a concert performance of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, conducted by Andris Nelsons.  They also appeared together in the Met Opera’s 2010 production of Der Rosenkavalier – as the Marschallin and Octavian in what the Associated Press described as  “some rare alignment of planets.”


Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham © Dario Acosta

This San Francisco Symphony Gala Concert opens with Rossini’s much-loved overture to his opera William Tell, the last of his 39 operas, which premiered in 1829. It’s followed by two gorgeous arias – Deh, per questo istante from Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito, and Francesco Cilea’s Ecco, respire appena… Io son l’umile ancella from his 1902 opera Adriana Lecouvreur.  Fleming and Graham – long-time friends and collaborators – then sing the duet Ah, guarda sorella from Mozart’s Così fan tutte.

Next on the program is a work by contemporary American composer, Steve Reich – his Three Movements, for orchestra. Regarded as one of the pioneers of the minimalist school of music, Reich has been described by Stephen Sondheim as “both a startlingly original composer and a trailblazer”. Three Movements, composed in 1986, features two vibraphones, two marimbas and two pianos, all placed center stage in front of the orchestra.

For the concert finale, our two glamorous and versatile divas then take us to Broadway, with Gershwin’s Fascinating Rhythm from Lady Be Good, his supremely beautiful Summertime from Porgy and Bess, and Irving Berlin’s Anything You Can Do from Annie Get Your Gun.

To round off the evening, there’s the traditional Symphony After-Party, with live music, dancing, and an enticing spread of celebratory bites and drinks, to which all guests are invited.

Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony present the Opening Night Gala of the 2016-17 Season on Wednesday, September 7, at Davies Symphony Hall. Visit the San Francisco Symphony website for tickets, and for details on the four Dinner Packages available for purchase. Proceeds from the Opening Night Gala will benefit the Symphony’s many artistic, community and education programs.


San Francisco Symphony program notes

Artists’ websites:

Renée Fleming

Susan Graham

Steve Reich


All Music


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