Ted Hearne’s ‘The Source’ opens at SF Opera Lab

Mellissa Hughes in ‘The Source’ at SF Opera Lab © James Matthew Daniel

San Francisco Opera opens Season Two of its SF Opera Lab programs this week with a contemporary oratorio, The Source, by composer Ted Hearne – a work which has as its subject the dramatic 2010 release by US Army Private Manning of hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks.

For the score of this oratorio for four singers and an ensemble of seven musicians, Hearne has pulled together an eclectic range of pieces  – described on his website as “auto-tuned recitatives, neo soul ballads, icy string trios and moments of cracked-out musical theater”.

The content, by librettist Mark Doten, is taken from a combination of Chelsea Manning’s own words, as well as thousands of primary-source documents – including Twitter feeds, cable news interviews, personal chat transcripts and declassified military reports – and sections of the US military documents known as the Iraq War Logs and the Afghan War Diary.

The New York Times referred to The Source as “A 21st-century masterpiece …. remarkable and essential”. According to The Los Angeles Times, it “….. makes vivid the confusing yet crucial bigger picture of how we handle, and how free we are to handle, information …..”.

Isaiah Robinson in ‘The Source’ © Noah Stern Weber/MASS MoCA

A Beth Morrison Production, The Source was premiered at the BAM Next Wave Festival in October 2014, and had its West Coast premiere in Los Angeles in October 2016.

SF Opera Lab presents six performances of The Source – from February 24 to 26, and from March 1 to 3 – at the Dianne and Tad Taube Atrium Theater, in the Diane B Wilsey Center for Opera.  For further information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Opera website

Ted Hearne – The Source

Mark Doten


ArtsPreview home page

San Francisco Ballet presents North American premiere of Scarlett’s ‘Frankenstein’

Vitor Luiz in Scarlett’s ‘Frankenstein (© Erik Tomasson)

Lovers of ballet in San Francisco are to be treated to a new full-length work this week – San Francisco Ballet’s production of Frankenstein, by British choreographer Liam Scarlett. A co-production with The Royal Ballet, Frankenstein was inspired by Mary Shelley’s 1813 Gothic novel, Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus, and the ballet received its world premiere at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in May last year. This week, San Francisco Ballet brings the North American premiere to the War Memorial Opera House.

Contrary to popular belief, Frankenstein is not a horror story. It’s more like an early piece of science fiction, and a deeply moving and tragic one at that. In a Royal Opera House video, Scarlett describes his ballet as being “essentially about love”. “The stereotype of Frankenstein has gone so far from the book” he explains, “that what I really want to do is bring it back to how Shelley saw it. I want to show the public what Frankenstein is really about.”

Joseph Walsh in Scarlett’s ‘Frankenstein’ (© Erik Tomasson)

Scarlett’s ballet – set, like the novel, at the end of the 18th Century – revolves around the creation of a living being by a young man, Victor Frankenstein, who loses his mother shortly before being sent to university. With a gift for science, and chemistry in particular, he desperately hopes to bring his mother back through one of his experiments, and, using non-living body parts, succeeds in giving life to his creation. This being, whom he calls the Creature, turns out to be physically hideous, and Victor, repulsed by what he has done, wants nothing to do with him.

The Creature, though, is not some fearful monster with evil intent. Instead, says Scarlett, “I saw him as a child …. an incredibly vulnerable creature who is shunned by his own creator or father.” The Creature’s feelings of abandonment and desperation to be loved are intensified by the love which he sees between Victor and his fiancée, Elizabeth, as well as the relationships that Victor has with his family and friends, all of whom become involved in the tragedy resulting from Victor’s struggle to reconcile himself to the consequences of his actions.

Frances Chung and Joseph Walsh in Scarlett’s ‘Frankenstein’ (© Erik Tomasson)


San Francisco Ballet in Scarlett’s ‘Frankenstein’ (© Erik Tomasson)

Joseph Walsh is one of the San Francisco Ballet principals who’s dancing the role of Victor Frankenstein. He regards the ballet as unique because  “it is not completely driven by a classic love story;  it’s more about the relationship between Victor and the Creature and how that pulls him away from the love between him and Elizabeth. The spectrum of emotion is vast,” he says, “and it has been a pleasurable challenge for me to make it believable.”

Walsh says that although Frankenstein does have choreographic similarities to other ballets of Scarlett’s in which he’s danced – Fearful Symmetries and Hummingbird – it was created with an intention much more different than those. “There’s more focus on character development and movement that’s derived from the plot rather than from just the music, like his more contemporary works,” he explains.

Liam Scarlett, The Royal Ballet’s first Artist in Residence, is also the youngest choreographer to receive a commission for a full-length work from the company. Among the works he has created for The Royal Ballet, Asphodel Meadows won a Critics’ Circle National Dance Award and was also nominated for a South Bank Award and an Olivier Award. Another, Consolations and Liebestraum, was also nominated for a Critics’ Circle Award. In addition to the works which Scarlett has created for San Francisco Ballet – Hummingbird and Fearful Symmetries – he has also choreographed for companies such as English National Ballet, New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and Miami City Ballet. This year, The Royal Ballet will premiere his new work, Symphonic Dances, set to Rachmaninov’s final composition.  Scarlett also takes up the position of Artistic Associate for Queensland Ballet, following his creation of a new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Australian company last season. His roles with the two companies will run concurrently.

Joseph Walsh in Scarlett’s ‘Frankenstein’ (© Erik Tomasson)

The score for Frankenstein was commissioned from American composer, pianist and conductor, Lowell Liebermann, described by Time magazine as “a composer unafraid of grand gestures and openhearted lyricism”. Scarlett has choreographed to Liebermann’s music on three previous occasions – for his ballets Viscera and Euphotic for Miami City Ballet, and Gargoyles for New York City Ballet – but the score for Frankenstein is Liebermann’s first commission for a ballet. The recipient of many awards and accolades, Liebermann has written over a hundred works in all genres, which have been performed by orchestras across the globe, conducted by names as illustrious as Charles Dutoit, Kurt Masur, Andrew Litton, David Zinman, Jesus Lopez-Cobos and Wolfgang Sawallisch, and performed by luminaries such as Joshua Bell, Sir James Galway, Garrick Ohlsson, Stephen Hough and Jean-Yves Thibaudet. Lowell Liebermann also holds the honor of having written the only American opera to have been commissioned and premiered by Opéra Monte-Carlo – The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Set and costume design for Frankenstein is by the wonderfully creative British artist, ballet and opera designer, John Macfarlane.  Macfarlane has previously collaborated with Liam Scarlett – on his productions of Asphodel Meadows, Sweet Violets and The Age of Anxiety – with choreographers such as Jiri Kylian, Glen Tetley and Sir Peter Wright, and has designed for companies such as The Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet, Netherlands Dance Theatre, Danish Royal Ballet, Canadian Royal Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem and Australian National Ballet.  He has designed for The Royal Opera, Welsh National Opera, Glyndebourne Festival and English National Opera, also for the Metropolitan, San Francisco, Paris and Vienna State operas.  Future commissions include both set and costume design for contemporary and classical ballets at Covent Garden.

Vitor Luiz in Scarlett’s ‘Frankenstein’ (© Erik Tomasson

Frankenstein is a ballet which is clearly very close to Scarlett’s heart. “I’ve immersed myself in this project for nearly three years now,” he says in a Royal Ballet video recorded prior to the world premiere, “and it is a labour of pure love.”

San Francisco Ballet presents the North American premiere of Liam Scarlett’s Frankenstein from February 17 to 26, at the War Memorial Opera House, with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Martin West. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Ballet website.


San Francisco Ballet

The Royal Ballet



San Francisco Ballet program notes by Cheryl A Ossola

The Royal Ballet program notes


Artists’ websites:

Liam Scarlett

Lowell Liebermann

John Macfarlane

Videos from The Royal Ballet’s Youtube channel:

Liam Scarlett on creating Frankenstein

Lowell Liebermann on his Frankenstein score

John McFarlane talks about the set and props of Frankenstein


ArtsPreview home page

San Francisco Symphony celebrates John Adams at 70

Composer John Adams whose oratorio ‘The Gospel According to the Other Mary’ is presented by the San Francisco Symphony – photo courtesy San Francisco Symphony


John Adams, contemporary and ‘post-minimalist’ (his phrase) composer turns 70 this week. One of America’s best known and most frequently performed composers, Adams has enjoyed a long-term relationship with the San Francisco Symphony – the longest partnership he has had with a leading international orchestra during his career, and one which strengthened over the years as he became an internationally known and highly respected composer.

The Adams/SF Symphony relationship began in 1978 when he was appointed the Symphony’s New Music Adviser. Then followed a three-year tenure as composer-in-residence – from 1982 to 1985 – and the creation by Adams of the orchestra’s New and Unusual Music series. A number of John Adams’ best-known orchestral works were written for – and premiered by – the San Francisco Symphony, including Harmonium (1981), Grand Pianola Music (1982), Harmonielehre (1985), My Father Knew Charles Ives (2003) and Absolute Jest (2012).

Two of Adams’ orchestral works have been recorded by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony on SFS Media, the orchestra’s in-house label. Their 2012 recording of Harmonielehre (commissioned by the Symphony) and Short Ride in a Fast Machine (commissioned by MTT) won the Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance in that year, and their most recent collaboration on the SFS Media label was the 2015 recording of Absolute Jest & Grand Pianola Music.

In the first of two concerts celebrating John Adams’ 70th birthday, conductor Grant Gershon – Artistic Director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale and Resident Conductor of the Los Angeles Opera – leads the San Francisco Symphony in the orchestra’s first performance of Adams’ Passion oratorio, The Gospel According to the Other Mary.  The work was commissioned by Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2012, and premiered in May 2013.

With a libretto compiled by Peter Sellars from Biblical sources, and original texts by Hildegard of Bingen, Dorothy Day, Rosario Castellanos, June Jordan, Louise Erdrich and Primo Levi, The Gospel According to the Other Mary, relates the story of the last few weeks of Jesus’ life before his crucifixion, looking at events from the position of Mary Magdalene – a woman often regarded as marginalized – and also featuring her sister Martha and their brother Lazarus. Alongside the miracles and the resurrection, this work also draws parallels with current issues such as oppression, social justice and political unrest.

In a San Francisco Symphony video, John Adams describes how he asked his “long-time collaborator Peter Sellars to design or dream up a narrative for a passion play that would honor the Biblical story but also bring it into the present …. an oratorio that moves back and forth between the Biblical past and the immediate present”, drawing on the experiences of those times and how they relate to events that are taking place today.

Grant Gershon conducts the San Francisco Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus (director Ragnar Bohlin) in John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary at Davies Symphony Hall on February 16, 17 and 18. Also appearing in these performances are mezzo-sopranos Kelley O’Connor as Mary, and Tamara Mumford as Martha, tenor Jay Hunter Morris as Lazarus, and countertenors Daniel Bubeck, Brian Cummings and Nathan Medley.

For tickets and further information, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

An hour before the performances on February 16 and 17, there will be a pre-concert conversation between John Adams, scholar Alexandra Amati-Camperi, and Stage Director Elkhanah Pulitzer.

On February 18, John Adams joins Alexandra Amati-Camperi for a pre-concert talk about his work.

See also: program notes by Thomas May on John Adams’ history with the San Francisco Symphony


San Francisco Symphony notes and video

John Adams’ website


ArtsPreview home page