San Francisco Playhouse is brilliantly on cue with ‘Noises Off’

The cast of ‘Noises Off’ – Craig Marker, Nanci Zoppi, Johnny Moreno, Monique Hafen, Richard Louis James, Greg Ayers, Monica Ho, Kimberly Richards, Patrick Russell

We all enjoy a good laugh, and if the object of our mirth is frothy, fun and completely ridiculous, so much the better.  Michael Frayn’s Noises Off has arrived at the San Francisco Playhouse, to deliver just that sort of escapist lift – and deliver it certainly does.  Having originated at London’s Old Vic in 1982, it’s acknowledged as one of the most popular plays in the world, and it’s perfectly obvious why.

In this good old-fashioned British comedy – nobody seems to do this sort of thing quite as well as the British – Frayn, in his play-within-a-play, strips to the bare bones the backstage antics involved in producing a farce, and ends up making fun of the world of the theatre, and those who move within its rarefied atmosphere, in truly hilarious fashion.

Pandemonium breaks loose as the cast of ‘Nothing On’ rehearses a scene from the farce the night before opening. (From left: Richard Louis James, Nanci Zoppi, Craig Marker, Patrick Russell, Monique Hafen)

Noises Off recounts the theatrical prowess – or lack thereof – of a troupe of touring actors and actresses whose careers are on a downward slope –  and who, together with their (understandably) irascible producer, are trying to make a professional-looking fist of a badly written play called Nothing OnNothing On is your classic door-slamming, completely-missing-the-obvious, farce complete with the obligatory dropped trousers, scantily clad lady – and a number of sardines flying around.

Frayn got the idea for Noises Off while watching Lynn Redgrave and Richard Briers perform five roles between them during a 1970 production entitled The Two of Us.  As the story goes, he became fascinated by their fast-moving entrances and exits, and thought that the play was far funnier seen from behind than from the front.  He was right.

Director Lloyd (Johnny Moreno, right) gives direction to Selsdon (Richard Louis James, left) as assistant stage manager Poppy (Monica Ho) looks on

Act I of  Noises Off shows the final rehearsal before the opening night of Nothing On, which takes place in the Grand Theatre, Weston-super-Mare.  They say in theatrical circles that a bad rehearsal means a successful opening, and it’ll be all right on the night etc, but as the rehearsal descends from bad to disastrous, one is left wondering.

The second act shows the same act of the same play – but a month later – and this time in production at the Theatre Royal, Ashton-under-Lyme, but here we go backstage to witness the utter chaos taking place behind the scenes.  The mimed arguments going on between the various members of the cast have to be seen to be appreciated.  Pure genius.  As far as the production of Nothing On is concerned, it seems that not much has improved since opening night.

Belinda (Nanci Zoppi) tries to salvage an ill-fated performance, while Frederick (Craig Marker), Dotty (Kimberly Richards), and Garry (Patrick Russell) look on

In the final act, we see the same act of Nothing On but back on stage (are you still with me?) in a production taking place near the end of its tour, at the Municipal Theatre, Stockton-on-Tees – and it’s perfectly obvious that the hapless cast has most definitely not managed to overcome either their professional ‘inadequacies’ or the problems with their personal feuds, friendships, liaisons and weaknesses.

Director Susi Damilano and the cast of Noises Off deliver an absolutely splendid production, with fabulously funny portrayals of the all-too-predictable members of the touring theatre group, split-second timing and amazing acrobatics – involving tumbling down a staircase, and jumping up same with trousers around ankles. It would be unfair to single out any performance for commendation – and in any event, if I tried to explain who’s playing whom and in which play, I’d throw you into a state of total confusion.  Suffice to say that every single member of the cast – Kimberly Richards, Johnny Moreno, Patrick Russell, Monique Hafen, Monica Ho, Nanci Zoppi, Craig Marker, Greg Ayers and Richard Louis James – is hilariously marvelous (or should that be marvelously hilarious?) and they look as though they’re enjoying themselves every bit as much as the audience undoubtedly was.

The sets at the Playhouse are always a revelation, and this one – by George Maxwell – is no exception.  In every way, this is a simply superb production.

The cast of the farce ‘Nothing On’ muddles through an ill-fated performance. (From left: Monique Hafen, Richard Louis James, Kimberly Richards, Greg Ayers, Nanci Zoppi)

If you’ve seen Noises Off  in a previous production, you’ll almost certainly want to see it again, to relive everything about this play that makes it such an enjoyable experience – and if you’ve never seen it, do yourself (and as many friends as you can muster) a favor, so that you’ll know what everyone’s talking – and laughing – about.

Noises Off runs at the San Francisco Playhouse until May 13.  For more information, and tickets, visit the Playhouse website.

All photographs © Jessica Palopoli


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At a glance ….

Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony – © Bill Swerbenski

MTT & San Francisco Symphony play Mahler
This week, Michael Tilson Thomas and the Symphony present an all-Mahler program, featuring the lovely Adagio from his unfinished and final Symphony No 10, and his Symphony No 1 – the composer’s love of nature evident throughout the work.  MTT is known to adore the music of this composer – little wonder then that he and the Symphony have won seven Grammy Awards for their recordings of Mahler’s symphonies.

Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony in works by Mahler at Davies Symphony Hall from March 30 to April 2. For tickets, and further information, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

Poster for ‘Indian Connections’ series at SFJAZZ – Courtesy SFJAZZ

Indian Connections at SFJAZZ
The theme at SFJAZZ this week is Indian Connections – a series of performances by three different sets of artists.  On March 30, percussionist Karsh Kale – described by Billboard as “A visionary composer and producer” – presents Classical Science Fiction, the name of his 1999 debut EP.  Kale is joined by sarodist Alam Khan, Max ZT on the hammered dulcimer, and Carnatic vocalist Aditya Prakash.

Red Baraat Festival of Colors takes the stage on March 31. Led by Sunny Jain on the dhol – the double-headed barrel drum so widely used in Indian music – this octet from Brooklyn serves up what SFJAZZ refers to as “a raucously fun mix of Indian bhangra rhythms, go-go music, jazz, hip-hop and Crescent City brass funk”.

On Saturday, April 1, under the banner Miles From India, a full ensemble of Indian musicians re-imagines the music of Miles Davis as featured on his 1972 album On the Corner. This project, nominated for a 2008 GRAMMY, was inspired by the Indian instrumentation on the Davis album, and has been described by Billboard as “Arguably the most ambitious and certainly the most hybrid of Miles Davis tribute projects … a scintillating cross-pollination of music rooted in extended improvisations and buoyed by the sonic spice of Indian instruments”.

The Indian Connections performances take place in the Miner Auditorium at SFJAZZ from March 30 to April 1. For tickets and more information, visit the SFJAZZ website.

Members of the ODC/Dance company – © R J Muna

ODC/Dance Downtown
Contemporary dance company ODC/Dance presents the second program of its 46th annual home season – ODC/Dance Downtown – featuring two works by Founder & Artistic Director, Brenda Way. The first of these is a world premiere entitled What we carry What we keep, which deals with what Way describes as “this human obsession with stuff”, and is set to music by Joan Jeanrenaud. It’s followed by Way’s 2016 creation Walk Back the Cat – described as “a metaphorical unraveling of the creative process”, with music by Paul Dresher. Two of the performances – those on March 31 and April 2 – feature a pre-show balcony talk.

ODC/Dance is at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts for four performances, from March 30 to April 2. Tickets are Available at 415-978-ARTS (2787) or online at, where more information can be found.

Michael Morgan with the Oakland Symphony – Courtesy Oakland Symphony

Oakland Symphony plays Bruckner, Dvořák and Gabriela Frank
On Friday evening, Michael Morgan leads the Oakland Symphony in a performance which opens with Bruckner’s Te Deum, featuring soprano Hope Briggs, mezzo-soprano Betany Coffland, tenor Amitai Pati and bass Anthony Reed. It’s followed by Dvořák’s Symphony No 9, From the New World – “a piece of which I never tire” says Music Director Michael Morgan – and the program closes with a work entitled Concertino Cusqueño by Bay Area composer Gabriela Frank, “whose music,” says Morgan, “is way overdue on our programs”.

Michael Morgan conducts the Oakland Symphony in works by Bruckner, Dvořák and Gabriela Frank at the Paramount Theatre, Oakland, on Friday, March 31. The concert will be preceded by lobby entertainment and a talk by John Kendall Bailey at 7 pm, free to holders of tickets which can be purchased at

Baritone Sol Jin – Courtesy San Francisco Opera

Schwabacher Debut Recitals
The second performance in this current series of four Schwabacher Debut Recitals takes place on Sunday. Presented by San Francisco Opera Center and the Merola Opera Program, these recitals highlight the talents of the next generation of operatic stars.  This particular performance features baritone Sol Jin – a winner of the 2016 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and recently named by Opera News as one of their ‘25 rising stars’ – and pianist Kirill Kuzmin, a 2014/2015 Merola Opera Program apprentice coach who is currently a pianist and vocal coach in the Houston Grand Opera Studio.

Pianist Kirill Kuzmin – Courtesy San Francisco Opera

The program includes operatic works by Beethoven, Brahms, Poulenc, Ravel and Paolo Tosti, and takes place in the Taube Atrium Theater in San Francisco. For more information, visit the San Francisco Opera website.

Soprano Deborah Voigt – © Heidi Gutman

Fabio Luisi & the Danish National Symphony Orchestra
Davies Symphony Hall welcomes guest conductor Fabio Luisi and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra for two performances, the first of which stars American soprano Deborah Voigt, of whom the Wall Street Journal writes:  “Not only has her majestic voice made her fans love her, but so has the soprano’s profound feeling for texts and subtleties of musical style …..”.  Ms Voigt performs Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder, and the concert also features Carl Nielsen’s Helios Overture, followed by Beethoven’s Symphony No 3, Eroica.

Arabella Steinbacher – Courtesy San Francisco Symphony

The guest soloist in the second performance is German violinist Arabella Steinbacher, among whose assets, says The New York Times “are a finely polished technique and a beautifully varied palette of timbres”.   Ms Steinbacher plays Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major in a program which also features Richard Strauss’ tone poem Don Juan, and Nielsen’s Symphony No 6, Sinfonia semplice.

Fabio Luisi leads the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, with guest artists Deborah Voigt on April 2, and Arabelle Steinbacher on April 3. For more information and for tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

Violinist Wei Luo – © Xie Guichen

San Francisco Performances presents Wei Luo
Chinese pianist Wei Luo is in recital at the Herbst Theater on Sunday, playing works by Shostakovich, Beethoven, Albéniz and Prokofiev. Wei Luo was just 6 when she made her recital debut in Hong Kong, and in 2010 won first prize in the 11th Chopin International Competition for Young Pianists in Poland and the 2nd Rachmaninov International Piano Competition for Young Pianists in Frankfurt. In the same year, she made her orchestra debut with the Shanghai Philharmonic, in a performance of Prokofiev’s Symphony No 3, with conductor Muhai Tang.

Wei Luo appears for San Francisco Performances at the Herbst Theater on Sunday, April 2. For tickets and more information visit


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Ozon’s ‘8 Women’ screens at Alliance Française

© Fidélité Films – uploaded by UniFrance

This week’s movie at the Alliance Française is François Ozon’s 2002 dark comedy, 8 Women, featuring a galaxy of eight legendary female stars – the crème de la crème of the French film industry – Danielle Darrieux, Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Béart, Fanny Ardant, Virginie Ledoyen, Ludivine Sagnier and Firmine Richard.

Based on the 1958 Robert Thomas play, 8 Women – described by critic Roger Ebert as “the first Agatha Christie musical” – is set in a snowbound country cottage where these eight women have gathered to celebrate Christmas. There will, however, be no festivities, for the family patriarch, Marcel (Dominique Lamure) – husband of Deneuve’s character, Gaby – has been found murdered in his bed, with a knife in his back.

The roads have been blocked by snowfall, and the telephone lines have been cut. There are also no witnesses, so who committed the murder? Each of the women has a motive, each has something to hide – and a litany of dark family secrets is about to be revealed.

“From its elegantly vintage set to the 50s-style Technicolor,” writes Laura Bushell for BBC Films, “8 Women oozes camp artifice as much as it does acting talent, with each woman sending up her public persona and revelling in the fabulousness of it all.” And in the opinion of Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, “All eight women are something to see and marvel at.  Whatever you call this one-of-a-kind bonbon spiked with wit and malice, it’s classic oo-la-la.”

Winner of 11 awards, and recipient of 29 nominations, 8 Women – in French, with English subtitles – screens at the San Francisco Alliance Française, 1345 Bush Street, on Tuesday, March 28, at 7.00 pm. Admission is free, but a donation of $5 is suggested. For more information visit


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At a glance ……

A scene from ‘Noises Off’ – previewing at the San Francisco Playhouse this week – Courtesy SF Playhouse

Comedy at the San Francisco Playhouse

Previewing at the San Francisco Playhouse this week is Michael Frayn’s hugely successful British comedy, Noises Off – a play within a play, depicting the drama and hilarious goings-on behind the scenes during the production of a farce by a touring theater troupe. There’s a barrel of laughs in this slapstick comedy – with overblown egos, failing memories, jealousy and passionate affairs.  Noises Off runs at the Playhouse until May 13. For tickets – and to find out more – visit the San Francisco Playhouse website

Joshua Redman – © Jay Blakesberg – Courtesy SFJAZZ

Still Dreaming at SFJAZZ
Still Dreaming – the ensemble comprising the talents of Joshua Redman, Ron Miles, Scott Colley and Brian Blade – is at SFJAZZ this week, with a program inspired by the music of Old and New Dreams, the 1980’s band (featuring Redman’s father, tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman) which celebrated the legacy of  Ornette Colman, the alto saxophonist and composer described by The New York Times as “one of the most powerful and contentious innovators in the history of jazz”.  Still Dreaming is in the Miner Auditorium from March 23 to 26. More information is available on the SFJAZZ website.

Michael Tilson Thomas, Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony © Spencer Lowell

MTT leads San Francisco Symphony in 20th century greats
The program opens with John Cage’s The Seasons, commissioned by the Ballet Society in 1947, for a work choreographed by Merce Cunningham. It’s followed by Robin Holloway’s Europa and the Bull, written in 2014, portraying “Jupiter’s lustful hankering for the beautiful nymph, Europa” (Robin Holloway), and the concert ends with Bela Bartók’s 1943 five-movement Concerto for Orchestra.  The performances take place at Davies Symphony Hall on March 23 and 24. For more information visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

Violinist Nicola Benedetti – © Simon Fowler

Benedetti plays Bruch with MTT and SF Symphony
Nicola Benedetti – “Scotland’s star violinist” according to The Telegraph – is the guest artist on March 25 and 26, playing Max Bruch’s gorgeous Violin Concerto No 1, in a program which also features Cage’s The Seasons and Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra.  See more on the San Francisco Symphony website

Violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter – Courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Anne-Sophie Mutter in recital
As part of the San Francisco Symphony’s Great Performers Series, Anne-Sophie Mutter, with “her peerless technique” (The Independent) is in recital at Davies Symphony Hall on Sunday March 26, with pianist Lambert Orkis. Ms Mutter plays Mozart’s Violin Sonata in A major, and Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo capriccioso. This recital is a co-presentation with San Francisco Performances.   Find out more on the San Francisco Symphony website

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge – Courtesy King’s College, Cambridge

Choir of King’s College, Cambridge at Zellerbach Hall
Cal Performances presents a concert of works by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, under Director of Music Stephen Cleobury. Included in a program drawn from the English choral tradition are works such as Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine, Gabrielli’s O magnum mysterium and Purcell’s I was glad, sung with “the precision and grace that make this choir world famous” (The Guardian).

The National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine – Courtesy National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine

Also appearing at Zellerbach Hall this weekend is the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, led by Theodore Kuchar, playing Verdi’s Overture to La forza del destino, Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No 3 – with soloist Alex Slobodyanik – and the Shostakovich Symphony No 5.
The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge are at Zellerbach Hall on Friday, March 24, and the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine on Sunday, March 26.

See more on the CalPerformances website.

Bass-baritone Cody Quattlebaum – Courtesy San Francisco Opera

2017 Schwabacher Debut Recitals
San Francisco Opera Center and Merola Opera Program present the first of the 2017 Schwabacher Debut Recitals this weekend. The recital features mezzo-soprano Taylor Raven, bass-baritone Cody Quattlebaum (a finalist in the recent Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions) and pianist Mark Morash in a program which includes works by Debussy, Ibert, Korngold and Berg.  It takes place in the Taube Atrium Theater (Veterans Building) on Sunday, March 26. For more information, visit the San Francisco Opera website.

The Emerson String Quartet – © Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

Emerson Quartet at Stanford
As part of its 40th anniversary season, the Emerson Quartet appears at the Bing Concert Hall in Stanford on Sunday. Described by The New York Times as “one of the most impressive of American string quartets”, the Quartet – winner of nine Grammy’s – is known for its versatility with new works as well as classics. This performance, which includes works by Ravel, Debussy, and an early quartet by Alban Berg, takes place at the Bing Concert Hall on Friday, March 24. For more information visit the Stanford Live website.


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Temirkanov and the St Petersburg Philharmonic return to San Francisco

Yuri Temirkanov and the St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra – courtesy Opus 3 Artists

As part of its Great Performers series, the San Francisco Symphony welcomes back to Davies Symphony Hall the St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra with Artistic Director and Principal Conductor Yuri Temirkanov. Maestro Temirkanov leads the Orchestra in two programs – the first featuring selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, and his Violin Concerto No 2 – with Japanese violinist Sayaka Shoji – and Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe Suite No 2. The second program opens with Brahms’ Piano Concerto No 1 – with guest artist Garrick Ohlsson – followed by the Shostakovich Symphony No 5.

In 1999, Sayaka Shoji was the first Japanese, and youngest ever winner of the Paganini Competition. According to Gramophone magazine, Sayaka Shoji “isn’t merely a superb technician, she’s a deeply engaging performer. Her richly resonant, spirited sound is impressive and so, too, is the poetic delicacy of her phrasing.” The New York Times refers to her “impressive poise, [and] refined technique”, and The Sunday Times writes of her “Passionate, free, almost improvisatory virtuosity of the highest order”.

Japanese violinist Sayaka Shoji – © Masato Moriyama

Ms Shoji regularly performs with conductors as illustrious as Vladimir Ashkenazy, Charles Dutoit, Mariss Jansons, Zubin Mehta, Semyon Bychkov, Paavo Järvi, Myung-Whun Chung, Sir Antonio Pappano and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, and she also appears in recital and as a chamber musician with artists such as Joshua Bell, Vadim Repin, Itamar Golan, Steven Isserlis and Lang Lang. Highlights of this current season include Ms Shoji’s debut with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, and appearances with Osmo Vänskä and l’Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra and the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra.

In addition to Garrick Ohlsson’s reputation as one of the world’s leading exponents of the music of Chopin – he won the Gold Medal in the 1970 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw, the only American to have achieved this – he commands a wide repertoire of works for the piano. This season sees Mr Ohlsson performing works by Rachmaninoff (Piano Concertos Nos 3 and 4), Brahms (Nos 1 and 2), and works by Beethoven, Mozart, Grieg and Copland, appearing in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Detroit, Dallas, Miami, Toronto, Vancouver, San Francisco, Liverpool and Madrid. The Philadelphia Inquirer referred to him as “an elegant guest with the Philadelphia Orchestra”, adding that he “made a marvelous Mozartian”.

Pianist Garrick Ohlsson – © Paul Body

Mr Ohlsson is also a frequent and enthusiastic recitalist, having appeared with ensembles such as the Takacs, Cleveland, Emerson and Tokyo string quartets, and is a founding member – with violinist Jorja Fleezanis and cellist Michael Grebanier – of the San Francisco-based FOG Trio.

The St Petersburg Philharmonic, described by The Washington Post as “the national treasure of Russia”, and by Le Figaro as “the crowning glory of Russian culture”, is the leading orchestra of the St Petersburg Philharmonia which was founded in 1882 following a decree by Alexander III. Initially known as the Court Choir of St Petersburg, the orchestra became known as the Court Orchestra at the beginning of the 20th Century, was renamed the State Philharmonic Orchestra of Petrograd in 1917, and the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra in the mid-1920s. It wasn’t until 1991 that the ensemble took the name of the St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra.

During the 2015-16 season, the Orchestra, under Maestro Temirkanov, toured widely, appearing in concert halls which included La Scala, Milan, the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome, London’s Royal Albert Hall, the Théâtre des Champs Elysees in Paris, Madrid’s Auditorio Nacional de Música, Jurmala’s Dzintari Concert Hall, Tokyo’s Suntory Hall and the Beijing Concert Hall in the Forbidden City, where the musicians performed as part of the the project Day of Russia in the World. This season sees Yuri Temirkanov and the St Petersburg Philharmonic performing in France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Spain and the USA, with the honor of appearing at the Gala Opening of the VIII Mstislav Rostropovich International Festival, at the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire, on March 27.

Yuri Temirkanov – Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra – courtesy IMG Artists

Yuri Temirkanov took up the role of Artistic Director and Principal Conductor in 1988, following the 50-year tenure of Evgeny Mravinsky who had led the Orchestra from 1938. Maestro Temirkanov’s name is associated with the beginning of the revival of the Mariinsky (formerly the Kirov) Theatre, serving as Artistic Director and Principal Conductor from 1976-1988. He was Chief Guest Conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra between 1979 and 1998, and also Principal Conductor from 1992 to 1998. He served as Chief Guest Conductor of the Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra (1992-1997), as Chief Guest Conductor of the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra (1998-2008), and led the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra from 2000- 2006.

Maestro Temirkanov – recipient of over 33 honors and awards – is also currently Music Director of Teatro Regio di Parma, Music Director Emeritus of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and Honorary Conductor of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.  Le Monde has compared his conducting to “a magical immersion into a world that would have been lost to us, if not for the great conductor, one of the last giants of the last century”.

Yuri Temirkanov leads the St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra in a performance of works by Prokofiev and Ravel – with guest soloist Sayaka Shoji – at Davies Symphony Hall on Sunday, March 19. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

On Monday, March 20, the St Petersburg Philharmonic and Maestro Temirkanov present a program of works by Brahms and Shostakovich – guest artist Garrick Ohlsson – at Davies Symphony Hall.  More information can be found on the San Francisco Symphony website.


Program notes:

Romeo and Juliet

Prokofiev Violin Concerto No 2

Brahms Piano Concerto No 1



San Francisco Symphony

The St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra

Yuri Temirkanov

Sayaka Shoji

Garrick Ohlsson

Mstistlav Rostropovich Festival


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Antonacci sings ‘La Voix humaine’ for SF Opera Lab

Anna Caterina Antonacci with Donald Sulzen in SF Opera Lab’s ‘La Voix humaine’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

In a relatively rare performance outside of Europe, Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci stars in SF Opera Lab’s second presentation this season – La Voix humaine (The Human Voice) which has just opened at the Taube Atrium Theater. Performing one of her most celebrated roles, she sings Elle in Francis Poulenc’s 1958 monodrama, based on a play by Jean Cocteau, which revolves around the final telephone conversation between a desperate woman and the lover who is about to reject her. Ms Antonacci is accompanied by pianist Donald Sulzen.

It’s a demanding role, both vocally and dramatically, and Ms Antonacci is regarded as one of its finest interpreters. Following a recent performance, The Los Angeles Times described her as “A dramatically commanding soprano” and “an exceptional stage presence”. Opera News wrote that she “applied her enormous palette of vocal colors and inflections to portray, with an almost unbearably lifelike immediacy, a woman losing control”, and The New York Times referred to her “remarkable talent” as “a suspension between artifice and naturalness, theatricality and subtlety”.

It’s because of Ms Antonacci’s superb vocal and dramatic skills that she has won international acclaim for her performances in a wide-ranging repertoire. She has appeared in opera houses such as The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, La Scala Milan, Teatro Regio in Turin, the Théâtre du Châtelet and the Théâtre des Champs-Elysees in Paris – and with conductors such as Antonio Pappano, John Eliot Gardner, Yannick Nézét-Seguin. She has also appeared with San Francisco Opera on four previous occasions, her two most recent performances, in 2015, having been as Cassandre in Berlioz’s Les Troyens, led by Donald Runnicles, and as Cesira in the world premiere of Marco Tuttino’s Two Women, conducted by Nicola Luisotti.

SF Opera Lab’s ‘La Voix humaine’ stars Anna Caterina Antonacci with pianist Donald Sulzen © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

This SF Opera Lab production also features Ms Antonacci in performances of Berlioz’s La mort d’Ophélie (The Death of Ophelia) and a selection of French art songs, which includes Debussy’s Chansons de Bilitis, set to poems by Pierre Louÿs, and the song cycle La fraîcheur et le feu (The Cool and the Fire), by Poulenc, which he dedicated to Igor Stravinsky.

Donald Sulzen – whose playing has been described by The New York Times as “graceful and articulate” – has not only collaborated with some of the most celebrated singers, but he also performs in recital halls across Europe, South America and Japan, as well as in the United States. He has taught for a number of years at the Mozarteum in Salzburg and is a professor for the instruction of song duos at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Munich.

SF Opera Lab presents Anna Caterina Antonacci, with pianist Donald Sulzen, in La Voix humaine in the Dianne and Tad Taube Atrium Theater at the Diane B Wilsey Center for Opera, on March 14 and 17. For more information, and for tickets, visit the San Francisco Opera website.


San Francisco Opera program notes

Artists’ websites:

Anna Caterina Antonacci

Donald Sulzen


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‘Contemporary Voices’ make themselves heard at San Francisco Ballet

Dores André in Pita’s ‘Salome’ © Erik Tomasson

San Francisco Ballet’s second triple bill of the week takes the title Contemporary Voices, and it’s just that – a program which gives a voice to three contemporary choreographers – Yuri Possokhov, Arthur Pita and Liam Scarlett, all of whom created the featured works specifically for the Company. Possokhov’s Fusion and Scarlett’s Fearful Symmetries were both given their world premiere performances by San Francisco Ballet in previous seasons, and this year’s world premiere is Pita’s Salome.

San Francisco Ballet in Possokhov’s ‘Fusion’ © Erik Tomasson

Fusion is a work in which contrasting expressions of Eastern and Western cultures come face to face, where an interpretation of Eastern spirituality integrates with the movements of Western contemporary jazz. Possokhov’s inspiration came, in part, from watching a performance by a group of Whirling Dervishes – dervishes being members of a religious sect which originated in Turkey in the 13th century, who devote themselves to a life of spiritual modesty and meditation, and are associated with a ritual dance which involves highly stylized whirling movements.

This mood of contrasts is also reflected in the score, as it moves from Rahul Dev Burman’s Aaj Ki Raat – taken from the soundtrack of one of his Bollywood films – and arranged by Osvaldo Golijov – to three pieces by contemporary British composer, pianist and conductor, Graham Fitkin – Hard Fairy, The Cone Gatherers and Bed.

Dores André in Pita’s ‘Salome’ © Erik Tomasson

Judging by the impressive list of productions, achievements and awards which are associated with the name Arthur Pita – in dance, opera, musicals, plays and film – it was only going to be a matter of time before San Francisco Ballet commissioned a work from him, and his Salome, promises to be something of a revelation. South African-born Pita – who trained in Johannesburg before completing his studies at the London Contemporary Dance School – has a well-known affinity for the surrealist style of film director David Lynch, one of the sources of inspiration for his (very) loose adaptation of the Biblical story of Salome.  Benjamin Freemantle – a member of the corps de ballet –  describes Salome as “something along the lines of ballet theatre”. This, he says, is most obvious at the start of the ballet when “Arthur really takes the time … to set the mood and to showcase to the audience what story he wants to tell”.

Dores André in Pita’s ‘Salome’ © Erik Tomasson

Freemantle refers to ‘Salome’ as “a dark, sinister and eerie ballet with explosions of color. Quite the juxtaposition between the two,” he admits “but it makes for an amazing effect onstage”. It’s also “unusual and a little off-the-grid from what the Bay Area audience usually sees from us,” he adds, “…. not something SF Ballet would typically do, but that being said, we are always pushing the envelope and bringing in new ideas and choreographers from all over. So, this is actually typical of us.”

The score is an original composition by British musician and composer Frank Moon, with whom Pita has collaborated on a number of occasions, as he has with Brazilian-born designer Yann Seabra, whose stage setting is dominated by a large black stretched limousine.  Expect something much more contemporary, and very different, from the image which Salome normally conjures up.

San Francisco Ballet in Scarlett’s ‘Fearful Symmetries’ © Erik Tomasson

From the moment the curtain rises on Liam Scarlett’s Fearful Symmetries, you have a sense that something intriguing is about to take place. The stark background of vertical and horizontal neon lights in bright white sets the mood for a menacing urban location, compounded by the relentless rhythms of John Adams’ pulsating score. Both ballet and music take their title from the “fearful symmetry” referred to in the first stanza of William Blake’s 1794 poem, The Tyger.

With the dancers in uncompromising costumes of black and steel-gray, and no pointe work at all, there’s a sense of apprehension in Scarlett’s highly physical, athletic work – he describes it as “feral” – but one which nevertheless has a thread of sensuality running through it. The mood is similar to that created by Jerome Robbins for his warring gangs in West Side Story, and not unlike the undercurrent of fear running through The Rite of Spring. It’s only at the end – in the ‘after the storm moment’ – that Scarlett gives us a complete contrast – a quietly elegant, and very classical, pas de deux.

San Francisco Ballet, with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, led by Martin West, presents Contemporary Voices at the War Memorial Opera house from March 9 to 19. For more information, and for tickets, visit the San Francisco Ballet website


Yuri Possokhov

Arthur Pita

Liam Scarlett

Rahul Dev Burman 

Graham Fitkin

Yann Seabra

John Adams 



San Francisco Ballet program notes – by Cheryl A Ossola

Artists’ websites

Whirling Dervishes in the Islamic Tradition


Three faces of Balanchine from San Francisco Ballet

Joseph Walsh in Balanchine’s ‘Prodigal Son’ © Erik Tomasson Choreography by George Balanchine // © The Balanchine Trust

In a program with the arresting title Must-See Balanchine, San Francisco Ballet almost challenges you not to miss out on three very different facets of the versatility of George Balanchine – the choreographer who was recognized as a genius during his lifetime, still is to this day, and probably will be for all time. This triple bill – featuring one of Balanchine’s abstract ‘black and white ballets’, a narrative work and his scintillating illustration of the grandeur of Imperial Russia – is certainly unmissable for anyone who loves ballet in all its manifestations.

Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets in Balanchine’s ‘Stravinsky Violin Concerto’ © Erik Tomasson Choreography by George Balanchine // © The Balanchine Trust

Balanchine created the opening work, Stravinsky Violin Concerto, for New York City Ballet’s 1972 Stravinsky Festival, held just over a year after the death of the composer who was both a close friend of, and an inspiration to Balanchine. Opening on June 18th of that year – the anniversary of Stravinsky’s birth – this week-long tribute featured thirty ballets – twenty-one of which were premieres – by six different choreographers.

San Francisco Ballet in Balanchine’s ‘Stravinsky Violin Concerto’ © Erik Tomasson Choreography by George Balanchine // © The Balanchine Trust

As with Stravinsky’s score for his Violin Concerto in D, the ballet has four movements. The opening Toccata is followed by two Arias – in this case pas de deux – and these in turn are followed by a closing Capriccio. With no costumes or sets to detract from Balanchine’s immaculate choreography, this work mainly reflects the neoclassical style for which he is so well known, but also features movements with more than a passing reference to the folk dances of his native Georgia.

Sofiane Sylve and Joseph Walsh in Balanchine’s ‘Prodigal Son’ © Erik Tomasson Choreography by George Balanchine // © The Balanchine Trust

The narrative work in this program is Balanchine’s The Prodigal Son, which he created for the final Paris season of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. The score for the ballet was written by Sergei Prokofiev to a libretto by Boris Kochno, the French-Russian dance writer and ballet librettist who was Diaghilev’s creative advisor and went on to have a major influence on French ballet after World War II. He based his scenario on the parable from St Luke’s Gospel – using a fair amount of artistic license. Balanchine’s choreography led to something of a rift with Prokofiev who was reportedly unhappy with the way in which the character of the Siren was portrayed. Nevertheless he conducted the premiere of the work in Paris on May 21, 1929, where it was very well received, and became one of the first of Balanchine’s ballets to gain international recognition.

Vanessa Zahorian and Carlo Di Lanno in Balanchine’s ‘Diamonds’ © Erik Tomasson Choreography by George Balanchine // © The Balanchine Trust

Balanchine adored the grandeur of Imperial Russia, by which he was surrounded in St Petersburg, the city of his birth, and at the Mariinsky Theatre where he trained. It was from this background that he drew his inspiration for Diamonds, the final movement of his three-part ballet, Jewels – the ballet which is believed to represent the three countries in which he lived and worked.  The first part, Emeralds, with music by Fauré, reflects the elegance of France, and Rubies represents the close relationship which he shared with Igor Stravinsky in America. Diamonds, set to four movements of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 3 (omitting the first), is a showpiece in every way. It glitters and sparkles, the combined genius of Balanchine’s choreography and Tchaikovsky’s glorious score highlighting the influence that the master composer had on the master choreographer – what Jennifer Homans in her book, Apollo’s Angels, refers to as Tchaikovsky’s “towering presence” in Balanchine’s art.

San Francisco Ballet in Balanchine’s ‘Diamonds’ © Erik Tomasson Choreography by George Balanchine // © The Balanchine Trust

San Francisco Ballet, with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, led by Martin West, presents Must-See Balanchine at the War Memorial Opera House from March 7 to March 18. For more information, and to buy tickets, visit the San Francisco Ballet website



San Francisco Ballet program notes – by Cheryl A Ossola

Somewhere – The Life of Jerome Robbins by Amanda Vaill (published by )

The George Balanchine Trust

All Music

Oxford Reference

Apollo’s Angels by Jennifer Homans (published by Random House Trade Paperbacks)