San Francisco Symphony hosts Simon Rattle & the Berliner Philharmoniker


Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Berliner Philharmoniker Copyright: Monika Ritterhaus under licence to EMI Classics

San Francisco audiences will surely be delighted to welcome to Davies Symphony Hall this week the highly regarded Berlin Philharmoniker and its esteemed Chief Conductor, Sir Simon Rattle, making his final visit to the USA and Canada in this capacity.

As guests of the San Francisco Symphony – currently away on an Asian tour – Sir Simon and the Philharmoniker appear for two performances only, with a selection of classical, modern and contemporary works, in keeping with a style which the Maestro presented to American audiences in his first US tour with the Orchestra in November 2003.

The program on November 22 comprises Pierre Boulez’s Éclat, followed by Mahler’s Symphony No 7, and the November 23 performance features orchestral pieces by Schoenberg, Webern and Berg, ending with Brahms’ pastoral-themed Symphony No 2.

Simon Rattle – who received his knighthood from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1994 – has long-standing associations with a number of orchestras in Europe and the United States, including the Rotterdam and Los Angeles philharmonics – he was principal guest conductor of both – the Boston Symphony, the Philadelphia and the Vienna Philharmonic orchestras. Since 1992 he has also been principal guest conductor of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and artistic adviser to the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, of which he was Founding Patron. Most recently he has appeared at the Lucerne, Salzburg and BBC Proms festivals.


Sir Simon Rattle – Courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Also renowned as an opera conductor, Sir Simon made his debut at the 1977 Glyndebourne Festival, and has since appeared in some of the world’s major opera houses – in Paris and Amsterdam, at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the Wiener Staatsoper, the Staatsoper Berlin and the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Maestro Rattle has enjoyed two particularly high profile and long-term tenures. In 1980 he became principal conductor and artistic adviser of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and music director from 1990 to 1998. Since 2002 he has been chief conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker and artistic director of the Berliner Philharmonie – roles which he will relinquish in September 2017 to take up the position of music director of the London Symphony Orchestra.

The Berliner Philharmoniker undertook its first tour of the United States and Canada in February 1955, not long after the death of its chief conductor, Wilhelm Furtwängler. Herbert von Karajan stepped in to lead the tour, which set the scene for the enthusiastic reception which the ensemble still receives in both countries during its regular visits. Highlights of these American tours include the 2007 Residency in Carnegie Hall, when the orchestra was appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, and the Schumann and Beethoven cycles in 2014 and 2015.

On this current tour, in its critique of “the glorious Berliners” at Carnegie Hall earlier this month, New York Classical Review wrote that “the celebrated ensemble filled the space with a huge, gorgeous sound”, and described their performance as “…. orchestral playing at its absolute finest. The dark, velvety strings produced enough volume on their own to fill the hall, and their plushness was a superb complement to the opening tenor horn solo” [of the Mahler Symphony No 7].

Following their performance at Boston Symphony Hall, Boston Edge wrote: “Rattle …. exhibited the rapport that only a great conductor can have with a world-class orchestra. Conducting the Mahler (along with the Pierre Boulez piece Éclat, that preceded it) from memory, he guided the ensemble with pin-point precision and they responded with an on-point performance that brought goosebumps during the piece’s numerous climaxes and a sense of wonder during its more lyrical moments.”

Sir Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker bring their current US tour to a close at Davies Symphony Hall on November 22 and 23. For more information, and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.


Sir Simon Rattle:
Artist’s webpages – Askonas Holt and Warner Classics

Berliner Philharmoniker

Mahler – Symphony No 7

Schoenberg – Five Orchestral Pieces

Webern – Six Pieces for Orchestra

Berg – Three Pieces for Orchestra

Brahms – Symphony No 2


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SFJAZZ celebrates return of Chucho Valdés & Joe Lovano


Joe Lovano and Chucho Valdés – at SFJAZZ this week – Photograph courtesy SFJAZZ

SFJAZZ has something to celebrate this week. In a first-time collaboration, two luminaries from the world of jazz – Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés and tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano – are giving four performances at the JAZZ Center, as part of their 2016-17 international tour.  Both have long-standing ties to SFJAZZ, so it’ll be like welcoming a pair of good friends!

In a review of their appearance at Ronnie Scott’s in London last month, The Guardian wrote: “In the hands of this pair, the melodic intricacies of contemporary jazz and the sensuality of Cuban dance music are fused with all the casual resourcefulness that has made Lovano and Valdés jazz world leaders for decades.”

Pianist and composr Valdés – with five GRAMMY® and three Latin GRAMMY Awards to his credit – is regarded as the most influential figure in modern Afro-Cuban jazz. This tour with Lovano is the latest in a series of projects which he has undertaken in the past few years.  Irakere 40, an extensive tour of the US in 2015, celebrated the band of which Valdés was co-founder. The album Tribute to Irakere (Live in Marciac), was recorded during the Jazz in Marciac festival in France earlier in the year.

In October 2015, Valdés headlined a concert with Chinese piano superstar Lang Lang and the Cuban National Symphony Orchestra in Havana, in a program which included music by Tchaikovsky, Elgar, George Gershwin, Ernesto Lecuona, James  P Johnson, Antonio Maria Romeu and Valdés himself.

He also performed in the opening concert of the 2014-15 season of Jazz at Lincoln Center, with a line-up which included trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis, and Cuban singer and percussionist Pedrito Martínez. Valdés featured in the premiere of the suite Ochas, written by Marsalis, for piano, batá, voices and orchestra.

GRAMMY® Award winner Joe Lovano is described by All Music, as “the tenor titan for our times”, “drawing on the past, always in the present, looking toward the future”. Regarded as a true heir to the heritage of artists such as Coleman Hawkins, Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, he is also known for his ability to push at boundaries in his endeavor to find new styles of artistic expression. In another achievement, he has recorded more albums as a leader for recording label Blue Note than any other artist, including Flying Colors with Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba.

Chucho Valdés and Joe Lovano appear with a backing group which includes some of Cuba’s most accomplished young instrumentalists – Gastón Joya on bass, drummer Francesco Mela and percussionist Yaroldi Abreu Robles.

This is an event that lovers of jazz won’t want to miss – as SFJAZZ puts it: “Together, Lovano and Valdés are traveling beyond genre and style to a rarified realm that’s pure inspiration.”

They’re onstage in the Miner Auditorium at SFJAZZ from Thursday November 17 to Sunday November 20. For more information and tickets, visit




SFJAZZ program notes

Artists’ websites:
Chucho Valdés
Joe Lovano

All Music

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Audrey Tatou in ‘A Very Long Engagement’ at Alliance Française

Audrey Tatou and Gaspard Ulliel in  A Very Long Engagement – © Warner Independent Pictures

The year is 1917. The setting, the Battle of the Somme, one of the darkest periods of World War I. The sheer atrocity of trench warfare has driven many French soldiers to take their own lives or at least to inflict an injury on themselves serious enough to justify their being sent home as invalids.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s A Very Long Engagement – to be screened at the San Francisco Alliance Française on Tuesday evening – was adapted from the best-selling novel by Jean-Baptiste Rossis (written under the pseudonym Sébastien Japrisot). It tells of five young French soldiers who have apparently taken this route of self-inflicted injury to escape the horrors of the war, but they’ve been caught, and – although one of them is actually innocent – the sentence passed by a court-martial results in their banishment to that bloodiest and most cruel of places – No Man’s Land – as ‘canon-fodder’ for the forces of whichever side ultimately ends up finishing them off.

One of the five has a fiancée, Mathilde – played by Audrey Tatou – who is determined, after the War has ended, to find out what has happened to the man she loves, and it’s through her eyes that the tale unfolds. She has seen a letter which alludes to the fact that her fiancé Manech (Gaspard Ulliel) is still alive, and she embarks on a search for eyewitnesses and survivors who could help her find him – so sure is she that he’s still alive.

The cast of A Very Long Engagement also includes Ticky Holgado as the private detective whom Mathilde hires to help her, Marion Cotillard, as Tina – a prostitute seeking revenge for the death of her lover – and Jodie Foster as one of the witnesses from whom Mathilde seeks information.

The Atlantic describes the film as “the most engaging” of Jeunet’s films, “a stylish and satisfying epic of love and war, hope and memory”. Roger Ebert highlights the visual impact of Jeunet’s direction in glowing terms – “The barbarity of war and the implacable logic of revenge are softened by the voluptuous beauty of Jeunet’s visuals and the magic of his storytelling …. He must work in a kind of holy trance, falling to his knees at night to give thanks that modern special effects have made his visions possible. Some directors abuse effects. He flies on their wings.”

The film was nominated for two Oscars at the 2005 Academy Awards ceremony, and for a BAFTA and a Golden Globe award in the same year. Among the 17 awards won by the film were five Césars and an American Society of Cinematographers Award – both in 2005 – and in 2004 a Chicago Film Critics Association Award. It scooped a total of 33 nominations in all. A list of all awards and nominations can be found on the IMDb website .

A Very Long Engagement – in French with English subtitles – screens at the San Francisco Alliance Française, 1345 Bush Street, on Tuesday, November 15, at 7.00 pm. Admission is free, but a donation of $5 is suggested.




Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Jean-Baptiste Rossis

Audrey Tatou

Gaspard Ulliel

Marion Cotillard

Ticky Holgado

Jodie Foster
The Atlantic

Roger Ebert


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Kaneko’s colorful ‘Butterfly’ returns to San Francisco Opera


Scene from Act I of Puccini’s ‘Madama Butterfly’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Puccini’s heartbreaking yet utterly beautiful Madama Butterfly is the final production of San Francisco Opera’s Fall Season, which opened its run at the War Memorial Opera House on Sunday. Starring Armenian soprano Lianna Haroutounian as Cio-Cio San and Italian tenor Vincenzo Costanzo – in his US debut – as Lt Pinkerton, the production features the colorful and creative design of Jun Kaneko which thrilled San Francisco audiences in the 2014 staging of this hugely popular work. Leslie Swackhamer, who directed that 2014 production, returns to direct this staging as well. Canadian conductor Yves Abel leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Chorus Director Ian Robertson).


Lianna Haroutounian in the title role of ‘Madama Butterfly’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Madama Butterfly has a somewhat complicated, but fascinating, history. The Italian libretto, by Luigi Illica and Guiseppe Giacosa, was partly based on the short story, Madame Butterfly, written by John Luther Long in 1898. Long’s story evolved partly from some stories told to him by his sister, and partly from a French novel, Madame Chrysanthème, written by Pierre Loti in 1887. This novel was then dramatized as a one-act play – Madame Butterfly: A Tragedy of Japan – by San Francisco-born theatrical producer and playwright, David Belasco, in 1900, the year in which Puccini attended a performance in London.

Puccini’s opera premiered at La Scala in Milan in February 1904, where it was most unenthusiastically received. Having undergone substantial revisions, Madama Butterfly was performed in Brescia in May of the same year, on that occasion to great acclaim. Puccini, however, made further revisions to his work – there were five in total – the last version of which was performed in 1907. This became known as the ‘standard version’ and is the one most frequently performed today.


Vincenzo Costanzo and Lianna Haroutounian as Pinkerton and Cio-Cio San © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Lianna Haroutounian made her debut with San Francisco Opera in the title role of the Company’s 2014 production of Tosca – described by the San Francisco Chronicle as “phenomenal”.  Following Sunday’s opening, the Chronicle referred to “the splendor of  Haroutounian’s artistry”, and The Mercury News wrote of her “impassioned, stunningly beautiful vocal performance”.  Early this year, Ms Haroutounian triumphed in a production of Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, following which Opera Today wrote: “As many Puccini fans as possible need to hear her in it. In fact, opera fans of all types need to hear Ms Haroutounian in any of her roles…. hers is one of the major voices of our time”.  Other recent triumphs include Ms Haroutounian’s performance as Leonora in Il Trovatore at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and Amelia in Simon Boccanegra at the Metropolitan Opera.


Tenor Vincenzo Costanzo, who makes his US debut in this performance, has been acclaimed for his interpretation of Pinkerton, with his “beautiful tenor voice, soft of timbre and richly nuanced”, wrote OperaClick.  Following Sunday’s opening in San Francisco, The Mercury News wrote that his “vocal assurance and smooth Italianate phrasing made an appealing Pinkerton”.  He has performed the role in a number of opera houses, including Teatro La Fenice in Venice, Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, and Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. Despite being one of the youngest Italian singers in the world of opera today, he has also appeared in Macbeth at Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa, and during the Verdi Bicentennial, made his debut as Rodolfo in Luisa Miller in Busseto, at Teatro Comunale di Piacenza, at Teatro Comunale of Ferrara and the Teatro Dante Alighieri in Ravenna, to great acclaim by both the public and critics. In the same year he made his debut in the role of Alfredo Germont in La Traviata at Guangzhou Opera House, and in a production by the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

American baritone Anthony Clark Evans sings the role of Sharpless in his debut performance with San Francisco Opera, and mezzo-soprano – and current San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow – Zanda Švēde is Suzuki. Tenor Julius Ahn sings Goro, and bass Raymond Aceto is The Bonze. Current Adler Fellows are well represented by baritone Edward Nelson as Prince Yamadori, bass Anthony Reed is the Imperial Commissioner, and soprano Julie Adams is Kate Pinkerton.


Lianna Haroutounian as Cio-Cio San and Vincenzo Costanzo as Pinkerton in ‘Madama Butterfly’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Madama Butterfly is one of three operas for which Jun Kaneko has designed sets and costumes, the other two being Beethoven’s Fidelio and Mozart’s The Magic Flute (staged by San Francisco Opera in November 2015) – all three of which are currently touring in the United States.

French-Canadian conductor Yves Abel debuted with San Francisco Opera in 1966 with the Company premiere of Ambroise Thomas’s Hamlet. Following his performance in Madama Butterfly with San Diego Opera in April this year, Opera Today wrote: The San Diego Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Yves Abel performed Puccini’s score with impressive dramatic qualities … he brought out the immense pathos of Puccini’s score. This Butterfly left many patrons weeping tears of sympathy.

Currently Chief Conductor of the NordwestDeutsche Philharmonie in Germany, Maestro Abel was Principal Guest Conductor of Deutsche Oper Berlin between 2005 and 2011. He regularly appears in the major opera houses of the world – the Metropolitan Opera, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, La Scala, Milan, Vienna Staatsoper, Opera National de Paris, and Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona.  Founder and Music Director of L’Opéra Francais de New York, he has revitalized many rare French operas including the world premiere of Dusapin’s To be Sung. Maestro Abel was awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government in 2009.


Anthony Clark Evans as Sharpless, Ayla Cashman as Sorrow and Lianna Haroutounian as Cio-Cio San © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Madama Butterfly is a co-production with Opera Omaha. Sung in Italian, with English supertitles, it runs at the War Memorial Opera House for a further nine performances. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Opera website


Lianna Haroutounian 

Vincenzo Costanzo

Jun Kaneko

Yves Abel


San Francesco Opera program notes

Encyclopaedia Britannica

Stanford University


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A new look for San Francisco Opera’s ‘Aida’


Scene from Verdi’s ‘Aida’ with Leah Crocetto in the title role © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera steps into the world of street art and hieroglyphics in its new production of Verdi’s Aida which returns to the War Memorial Opera House this week.  Directed by Francesca Zambello, this is Aida as you’ve never seen it before, featuring the artistic design of contemporary visual artist RETNA (Marquis Duriel Lewis).

A co-production with Washington National Opera, Seattle Opera and Minnesota Opera, Aida stars soprano Leah Crocetto and tenor Brian Jagde in their role debuts as the lovers Aida and Radames, mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk is Amneris – daughter of the Egyptian king – baritone George Gagnidze is Aida’s father Amonasro, and bass Raymond Aceto is the High Priest, Ramfis. The San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Chorus Director Ian Robertson) is led by Company Music Director Nicola Luisotti, with Resident Conductor Jordi Bernàcer taking the final performance on December 6.

Aida was commissioned in 1869 by the Khediv of Egypt, to celebrate the opening of the Khedivial Opera House in Cairo. The premiere was delayed because the scenery and costumes were unable to be delivered from Paris, due to the siege of the city in 1870-71, during the Franco-Prussian War, and it wasn’t until December 24, 1871, that the opera opened in Cairo.


Raymond Aceto as Ramfis and Brian Jagde as Radames in ‘Aida’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Set in Egypt, with a libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni, Aida takes place during a time of conflict between the Egyptians and the Ethiopians. Radames, a captain of the Egyptian guard is in love with the slave girl Aida, who is really an Ethiopian princess, and daughter of King Amonasro, the sworn enemy of the King of Egypt. Aida’s mistress, Amneris – daughter of the Egyptian king – is also in love with Radames, and is consumed with jealousy when she discovers that her competitor in love is Aida. It’s a tale of love, duplicity and, ultimately, tragedy.

San Francisco Opera’s history with Aida dates back to the Company premiere in 1925, in which Italian soprano Claudia Muzio sang the title role. The opera has since been staged in 32 of SF Opera’s 94 seasons, including the 1957 production in which American soprano Leontyne Price – considered one of the greatest interpreters of the role – performed it for the first time in her career.


George Gagnidze as Amonasro and Leah Crocetto as Aida © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The title role in this production is taken by soprano Leah Crocetto, one of today’s rising stars in the world of opera.  Ms Crocetto is a former Adler fellow at San Francisco Opera, and has made frequent appearances with the Company, the most recent of which was in the title role of Verdi’s Luisa Miller last season. The 2015-16 season also saw her debut with the Metropolitan Opera as Liù in Puccini’s Turandot, and her first appearance in the title role of Rossini’s Semiramide with Opera National de Bordeaux. Following her performance as Anna in Rossini’s Maometto II with the Canadian Opera Company, Opera News wrote: “… soprano Leah Crocetto’s performance was spectacular in its precision, control and beauty of tone even in Rossini’s most elaborately ornamented passages. Her voice maintained its purity from her crystalline top notes down to her sumptuous low notes”.

Tenor Brian Jagde – “…. the talent to watch for the future!” according to Associated Press – is considered one of the most engaging and exciting artists of his generation, with “Just the kind of voice that both musical and stage directors long to discover,” writes the Washington Times.  In San Francisco Opera’s recent summer season, Mr Jagde – a graduate of the Company’s Adler and Merola Programs – sang the role of Don José in the United States premiere of Calixto Bieito’s production of Bizet’s Carmen – a role which he also sang in the Deutsche Oper Berlin production, and in which he made his house debut at Teatro San Carlo – both during the 2015-16 season. Among his role debuts this current season, Mr Jagde will sing Maurizio in Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur at the Royal Opera House, and Froh in Wagner’s Das Rheingold in his first appearance with the New York Philharmonic. Other house debuts include the role of Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly at Teatro Massimo, Palermo, and for Washington National Opera, Macduff in Verdi’s Macbeth at Teatro Real, Madrid, and Cavaradossi in Puccini’s Tosca for Oper Stuttgart.


A scene from San Francisco Opera’s production of ‘Aida’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Ekaterina Semenchuk is a leading soloist at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, where she made her debut whilst still a student at the St Petersburg State Conservatory. Described by Operaclick as a “gorgeous mezzo-soprano … gifted with an amazing voice”, Ms Semenchuck’s 2015-16 repertoire included the roles of Marina in Boris Godunov and Polina in Pique Dame at the Metropolitan Opera, Olga in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, and Didon in Berlioz’s Les Troyens at the Mariinsky Theatre with Valery Gergiev, and at Carnegie Hall in New York. Future appearances this season include Verdi’s Don Carlos at La Scala, La Forza del Destino and Cavalleria Rusticana at the Metropolitan Opera, Die Frau ohne Schatten at Opéra de Paris, and Il Trovatore, Aida and Don Carlos at Teatro Real, Madrid.

Baritone George Gagnidze is regarded as one of the leading baritones of his time. He appeared as Amonasro at the Paris Opera in June this year, and made his house debut with San Francisco Opera, and also his role debut, as Carlo Gérard in Andrea Chénier at the beginning of this season. “Georgian baritone George Gagnidze was a powerhouse Gérard,” wrote The Mercury News, “singing with unflagging energy, he made the villainous character the most fully dimensional individual onstage.“ Later this season, Mr Gagnidze will again sing the role of Amonasra at the Metropolitan Opera, he will also appear in Andrea Chénier and in Tosca at Deutsche Oper Berlin, and in the role of Šakovlity in Mussorgsky’s Hovanščina at the BBC Proms in London next summer.


Brian Jagde as Radames and Ekaterina Semenchuk as Amneris in Verdi’s ‘Aida’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

American bass Raymond Aceto continues to attract both popular and critical acclaim. Following his recent appearance in Houston Grand Opera’s production of Tosca, Opera News wrote: “Raymond Aceto’s powerful, pathologically evil baron could have carried the night on his own. The varying colors of Aceto’s bass and the nuances of his acting brought realism and depth to the character — predatory, slithering, manipulative in Act I; cruel, taunting and wolfishly greedy in Act II.” Later in the season, Mr Aceto will appear with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Bruckner’s Te Deum, with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in Mozart’s Requiem, and in Gounod’s Faust with New Orleans Opera.

Multi-award winning opera and theater director Francesca Zambello is always a welcome guest at San Francisco Opera, where she served as Artistic Advisor between 2006 and 2011. Her most recent productions for the Company include Verdi’s Luisa Miller, Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen (which will be revived in June 2018), the world premiere of Marco Tutino’s Two Women and Jerome Kern’s Show Boat. Ms Zambello is General and Artistic Director of Glimmerglass Festival and also Artistic Advisor to the Washington National Opera.


A scene from San Francisco Opera’s ‘Aida’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

This San Francisco Opera production of Aida has sets by Michael Yeargan, and lighting design by Mark McCullough. Costumes are by Anita Yavich, and choreography by Jessica Lang – both of whom are making their Company debuts.

Also making his debut with the Company, in his first work on a theatrical production, is graffiti artist, muralist and painter, RETNA, who has designed much of the highly unusual scenery and visual presentation. His markedly individual style combines elements of traditional street art with hieroglyphics, as well as Arabic and Hebrew calligraphy.

Since his appointment as Music Director of San Francisco Opera in 2009, Nicola Luisotti has been an enthusiastic proponent of the Italian operatic repertoire. He led the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus in acclaimed performances of Verdi’s Don Carlo during the 2016 summer season, and Giordano’s Andrea Chénier at the opening of the current season.


Leach Crocetto as Aida and Brian Jagde as Radames in ‘Aida’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera’s production of Aida, sung in Italian with English supertitles, opened at the War Memorial Opera House this evening, and runs for eleven performances, until December 6. For further information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Opera website.


San Francisco Opera program notes

All Music

Francesca Zambello

Leah Crocetto

Brian Jagde

Ekaterina Semenchuk

George Gagnidze

Raymond Aceto


The Merola Opera Program 


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Where flamenco meets jazz – Diego El Cigala comes to SFJAZZ


Official video for the song ‘Lágrimas Negras’ the self-titled album by Bebo Valdés and Diego El Cigala (Calle54 Records, 2003)

produced by Fernando Trueba, Javier Limón and Nat Chediak


SFJAZZ is the place to be for a fascinating convergence of cultures this week, as the Center hosts one of the top Spanish artistes of today – Diego El Cigala – remarkable for his ability to combine the drama of his native flamenco with the sounds and rhythms of Latin American jazz.

El Cigala was immersed in flamenco from his earliest days in Madrid, growing up in an artistic Romani family in a city which, during his youth, was the center of flamenco. His fame initially spread little further than the borders of Spain, but then came a number of CDs – including Undebel, his first solo recording, in 1994, Entre vareta y canasta in 2000, Corren tiempos de alegria in 2001, and a live recording, Directo en el Teatro Real, the following year.

It was in 2003, however, that Diego El Cigala rose to international fame. He collaborated on an album with legendary Cuban pianist, bandleader, composer and arranger, Bebo Valdés, and a collection of other esteemed Cuban musicians, to produce Lágrimas Negras, creating an unusual blend of sounds, with his gravelly-voiced, gypsy style of flamenco and the music of Cuba, Spain and Central and South America. Reaching double platinum sales figures, Lágrimas Negras won a Latin Grammy Award, prompting New York Times critic Ben Ratliff to declare it best album of the year, and describing it as “one of the great new cross-pollinating documents of Latin music”.

In 2005, El Cigala and Valdés released a DVD, Blanco y Negro, featuring a live performance in Mallorca – a behind-the-scenes look at the recording of the Blanco y Negro CD, and interviews with the musicians.  In the same year, he won another Latin Grammy, for the album Picasso en Mis Ojos, featuring the great flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucía and Latin-jazz trumpeter and percussionist Jerry Gonzalez. El Cigala’s recent recording, Vuelve el Flamenco: Homenaje a Paco de Lucía, is a tribute to his late friend and collaborator, who referred to the flamenco singer as having “one of the most beautiful flamenco voices of our time, a voice of sweetness that flows over everything”.

El Cigala has recorded eight CDs to date, won two Grammy’s, and received five Latin Grammy nominations. On his new album, Indestructible, he turns his focus to salsa, an album which Billboard says “could be the salsa album of the year’, and from which he’ll be performing songs in his concerts at SFJAZZ this week.

Diego El Cigala appears in the Miner Auditorium from November 3 to 6, with Jaime ‘Yumitus’ Calabuch on piano, percussionist Isidro Suárez Navas, Yelsy Heredia Figueras on double bass, 
trombonists Richard Stella Prieto and Leo Aguirre Ocampo, and vocalists Diego Armando Giraldo Castillo and Giovanni Betancourt Ruiz.

For more information and tickets, visit the SFJAZZ website



Diego El Cigala

Bebo Valdés

Paco de Lucia

Jerry Gonzalez



SFJAZZ program notes


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