Joey Alexander Trio to wow audiences at SFJAZZ

Jazz pianist Joey Alexander – courtesy SFJAZZ

A 14-year-old pianist who has “… lit up the world of jazz …” (Houston Chronicle) is the star turn at SFJAZZ this weekend.  Appearing with Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland, Joey Alexander – whose love for jazz was initially inspired by the music of Thelonius Monk – is quite obviously a jazz force to be reckoned with.

When he was just eight years old, he was invited by UNESCO to play solo for Herbie Hancock when Hancock visited Joey’s home country, Indonesia. By the age of 10, Joey was performing at jazz festivals in Jakarta and Copenhagen. At the invitation of Wynton Marsalis, he made his debut at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Hall in 2014, and subsequently appeared before the Jazz Foundation of America at the Apollo and the Arthur Ashe Learning Center at Gotham Hall.

He was invited by impresario George Wein to perform on two stages at the Newport Jazz Festival the following year, and the Joey Alexander Trio has played at festivals and venues across the United States, in Indonesia, and as far afield as Tel Aviv, Marciac, Montréal, Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Bern, Prague, Vienna and Perugia.

Joey is also the youngest jazz artist ever to be nominated for a GRAMMY Award in the jazz category, and in fact both his albums have received nominations. The first of these was his 2015 debut album for Motéma Music, My Favorite Things, which received two nominations – for “Best Jazz Instrumental Album” and “Best Improvised Solo” for his performance of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps. He followed these in 2016 with a nomination for his second release Countdown.

This year, Joey has been performing a session dedicated to Thelonius Monk – which he calls Joey.Monk.Love!

Wynton Marsalis says: “There has never been anyone that you can think of who could play like that at his age. I love everything about his playing – his rhythm, his confidence, his understanding of the music.”

If you’re lucky, you can still get a ticket to one of Joey Alexander’s shows at SFJAZZ this weekend, although booking has been heavy.  He plays in the Miner Auditorium, in an all-star line-up with bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland, from November 24 to 26. More information and tickets on the SFJAZZ website.


SFJAZZ program notes

Joey Alexander’s website


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San Francisco Opera presents world premiere of Adams’ ‘Girls of the Golden West’

Davóne Tines as Ned Peters and Julia Bullock as Dame Shirley in John Adams’ ‘Girls of the Golden West’ Photo: Stefan Cohen/San Francisco Opera

In what promises to be a stunning finale to its Fall Season, San Francisco Opera presents the world premiere of John Adams’ Girls of the Golden West – a dramatic and moving portrayal of life on the frontier of the California Gold Rush. It’s a fitting finale to Adams’ 70th birthday year in which performances of his works have been taking place in concert halls and opera houses around the world.

Girls of the Golden West was created by John Adams for San Francisco Opera at the instigation of former General Director David Gockley, and is a co-commission and co-production with Dallas Opera and the Dutch National Opera, Amsterdam.

The opera is set in an interesting phase in the history of California which, as Adams says, “….. brought out the very best and the very worst of human traits, from scenes of ugly nativist racism and casual violence to examples of nobility, generosity and ingenuity”.

Ryan McKinny as Clarence and Paul Appleby as Joe Cannon with the San Francisco Opera Chorus in John Adams’ ‘Girls of the Golden West’ Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera


A scene from Act I of John Adams’ ‘Girls of the Golden West’ Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

This portrayal has been vividly captured by librettist and director Peter Sellars from a number of sources, one of which was The Shirley Letters – a true series of events chronicled by a doctor’s wife, Louise Clappe, who for a time lived in a remote northern California mining camp, and who wrote under the pen name of Dame Shirley. Other sources were the diary of Chilean miner Ramón Gil Navarro, memoirs of fugitive slaves, poems written by Chinese immigrants (Songs of Gold Mountain), the Argentine poet Alfonsina Storni, a speech by Frederick Douglass, songs of the gold miners; a speech by Frederick Douglass, biographies of Lola Montez, the works of 19th-century California historians Hubert Howe Bancroft and Josiah Royce, and Mark Twain’s semi-autobiographical book, Roughing It, written when he traveled around the frontier area during the 1860s.

Girls of the Golden West features the San Francisco Opera debuts of three operatic artists – Julia Bullock, Ryan McKinny and Davóne Tines, as well as that of conductor Grant Gershon – artistic director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale and an acclaimed interpreter of the works of John Adams.

Hye Jung Lee as Ah Sing and Paul Appleby as Joe Cannon in a scene from John Adams’ ‘Girls of the Golden West’ Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera


Ryan McKinny as Clarence, Paul Appleby as Joe Cannon, and Elliot Madore as Ramón in John Adams’ ‘Girls of the Golden West’ Photo: Stefan Cohen/San Francisco Opera

The role of Dame Shirley is taken by Julia Bullock, praised for her “velvety soprano” (The Times), her “glorious mellow sheen” (Musical America) and her “purity and sweetness of tone” (Financial Times). Ms Bullock is acclaimed for her performances in other works by John Adams, and by contemporary composers Kaija Saariaho and Tyshawn Sorey.

Base-baritone Ryan McKinny – who appears as Clarence, a hard-luck miner – has been described as “One of the finest singers of his generation” by Opera News. He recently appeared with the San Francisco Symphony in Bernstein’s Arias and Barcarolles in the season-opening celebration of the Bernstein Centennial.

Davóne Tines takes the role of Ned Peters, an African-American cowboy and fugitive slave drawn to the frontier by the lure of wealth. Described by the Los Angeles Times as “the buzz of California’s opera world”, Davóne Tines is also said by composer and conductor Matthew Aucoin to have a “…. voice of enviable lushness and uncanny power”. Mr Tines is scheduled to appear in John Adams’ opera-oratorio El Niño next month, with Grant Gershon and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Davóne Tine as Ned Peters, Elliot Madore as Ramón, and Ryan McKinny as Clarence in John Adams’ ‘Girls of the Golden West’ Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera


Lorena Feijóoo as Lola Montez in John Adams’ ‘Girls of the Golden West.’ Photo: Stefan Cohen/San Francisco Opera

Tenor Paul Appleby is Joe Cannon, the miner whose love for Mexican barmaid Josefa Segovia causes a crisis in the camp. Mr Appleby’s recent performance in Béatrice et Bénédict at Glyndebourne prompted BBC Music Magazine Opera Choice to describe him as “…. a handsome presence and a handsome voice”, and in a 2016 production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, The New York Times wrote that he had made “the hapless role of Don Ottavio a thing of tenorial beauty”. Mr Appleby last appeared with San Francisco Opera in 2015, as Tamino in Mozart’s The Magic Flute.

The role of Josefa Segovia is sung by mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges, described by as “Vocally gifted with effusive, smoky substance …. softness and soulfulness”. She made her San Francisco Opera debut last season as Bersi in Giordano’s Andrea Chénier, a role which she has also performed at Bayerische Staatsoper, which drew praise from Opera News.

Korean soprano Hye Jung Lee takes the role of Ah Sing, the Chinese prostitute who’s in love with Joe. She has previously appeared with San Francisco Opera as Madame Mao Tse-tung in Adams’ Nixon in China in 2012, and as Olympia in Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann in 2013.  The New York Times describes her as “striking” with a “sweet and focused” sound.

Paul Appleby as Joe Cannon and J’Nai Bridges as Josefa Segovia in John Adams’ ‘Girls of the Golden West’ Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Elliot Madore sings the role of Ramón, the Chilean bartender of the Empire Hotel, who last appeared with San Francisco Opera as Anthony Hope in the Company premiere of Sweeney Todd. La Scena Musicale has written of his “… lovely lyric baritone with a recognizable timbre …. capable of both power and nuance, with an impressive range”.

Lorena Feijóo, former principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet, takes the role of Lola Montez, the celebrity and entertainer who was well known in the mining area for her provocative Spider Dance.

Peter Sellars’ creative team – drawn from the worlds of opera, theater and cinema – includes set designer David Gropman (Fences, Life of Pi, Hairspray), costume designer Rita Ryack (How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Beautiful Mind and the music video for Michael Jackson’s Bad), lighting designer James F Ingalls, sound designer Mark Grey and choreographer John Heginbotham.

Grant Gershon leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, Chorus and Dance Corps in eight performances of Girls of the Golden West at the War Memorial Opera House, from November 21st to December 10. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Opera website.

Sources of information:

San Francisco Opera program notes

Artists’ websites

Julia Bullock

Ryan McKinny

Paul Appleby

J’Nai Bridges

Hye Jung Lee

Elliott Madore

Lorena Feijóo

Los Angeles Times

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MTT & San Francisco Symphony present Benefit Concert for the North Bay

Poster courtesy San Francisco Symphony

It comes as no surprise that Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony have organized a concert to raise funds for those affected by the recent wildfires. In a magnificent gesture, MTT, the musicians of the Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony Chorus (Director Ragnar Bohlin), members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus (Director Ian Robertson), guest soloists – soprano Nikki Einfeld, mezzo-soprano Renée Rapier, tenor Nicholas Phan and bass Soloman Howard – as well as the SFS stage crew, ushers and staff, are all donating their services to present Symphony Relief: A Benefit Concert for the North Bay. The proceeds of this performance will benefit victims of the Northern California wildfires, through the North Bay Fire Relief Fund and the Sonoma County Resilience Fund.

The program – a blend of inspiring and uplifting music – opens with two very American works by Aaron Copland. Copland’s style of music has always been closely identified with this country – and his Fanfare for the Common Man is no exception. It was commissioned by Eugene Goosens for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra – initially to engender a spirit of patriotism during World War II. Copland gave the work its title, which turned out to be wholly appropriate since Goosens decided to premiere it on March 12, 1943 – three days prior to the one on which income taxes were due to be paid that year, and both he and Copland decided that this would be a good way in which to honor “the common man”.

Michael Tilson Thomas leading the San Francisco Symphony – photo Bay Taper, courtesy of San Francisco Symphony

The second work by Copland is no less American in both concept and style. It was written for the 1940 Sam Wood film Our Town, based on Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1938 stage play about the ordinary, day to day lives of the people of a fictional town, Grover’s Corners, which was inspired by the town of Peterborough, New Hampshire, where Wilder spent many summers. With war looming on the horizon, the simple values of Our Town (set in the period 1901 to 1913) were viewed as comforting and appealing. As Copland said: “I tried for clean and clear sounds and in general used straight-forward harmonies and rhythms that would project the serenity and sense of security of the story”.

The finale from Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 4 follows. It’s a work of high drama and gentle, lyrical passages, which, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica, Tchaikovsky considered to be “ultimately a characterization of the nature of fate”. Tchaikovsky wrote his Fourth Symphony in 1877, a rather turbulent year in his life. It was the year which marked the beginning of his involvement with Nadezhda von Meck, a wealthy widow who became his patron on condition that they should never meet. It was also the year in which he embarked on a short-lived and disastrous marriage which precipitated a nervous breakdown, but he returned to the symphony later in the year, dedicating it to his patron with the inscription: “Never yet has any of my orchestral works cost me so much labour, but I’ve never yet felt such love for any of my things.…Perhaps I’m mistaken, but it seems to me that this symphony is better than anything I’ve done so far”.

Bass Soloman Howard – photo Jon Adjahoe, courtesy San Francisco Opera

Also on the program is a selection of a cappella spirituals – performed by bass Soloman Howard who recently graduated from Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program. Currently appearing as Timur in San Francisco Opera’s production of Turandot, Mr Howard lists among highlights of his career appearances as the King in Aida for Metropolitan Opera, Dr Grenvil in La Traviata for Los Angeles Opera and appearances for Washington National Opera as Fafner in Das Rheingold, Siegfried in Der Ring des Nibelungen, Sarastro in The Magic Flute, and Joe in Show Boat.  He has attracted praise from The New York Times which describes his voice as “sonorous”, and The Guardian hailed as “a triumph” his appearance as Martin Luther King Jr in the world premiere of the revised edition of Philip Glass’ Appomattox.

For the final work in Sunday’s program the guest soloists join the Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony Chorus and members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus in the rousing fourth movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No 9, his much-loved setting of Friedrich Schiller’s Ode To Joy.

San Francisco Symphony violinist Melissa Kleinbart says: “We hope to use the power of music as a call to action that will inspire music lovers throughout the Bay Area to join us in raising much needed funds for individuals and communities who have been adversely affected by this catastrophic event”.

Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus, and guest soloists, in Symphony Relief – a Benefit Concert for the North Bay, at Davies Symphony Hall on Sunday evening, November 19. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.


Sources of information:


Fanfare for the Common Man:

San Francisco Symphony program notes

Library of Congress



Our Town:

Boosey & Hawkes

The Thornton Wilder Society


Tchaikovsky Symphony No 4:

San Francisco Symphony program notes

Encyclopaedia Britannica


Artist’s website – Soloman Howard


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Bolshoi Ballet’s ‘Taming of the Shrew’ in cinemas

Ekaterina Krysanova and Vladislav Lantratov in the Bolshoi Ballet’s production of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ – © Alice Blangero

The Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Season continues this weekend with a screening of the Company’s production of The Taming of the Shrew – a work commissioned in 2014 from the Choreographer-Director of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, Jean-Christophe Maillot.

Rarely does the Bolshoi commission works from foreign choreographers, but Maillot and Sergei Filin – at that time Ballet Director of the Bolshoi Theatre, and now Director of the Young Artists Ballet Program – share a close friendship, having previously worked together on a number of artistic projects. This occasion was also the first, since Maillot’s appointment in 1993, that he had choreographed a ballet for a company other than his own.

With The Taming of the Shrew, Maillot wanted to create a ballet for the artists of the Bolshoi which would highlight their theatrical skills, as well as the brilliant dancing for which this company is renowned. This, he realised, would require a work with a strong narrative theme, so he turned to the greatest playwright in the English language, William Shakespeare, for his inspiration – selecting the battle of wills between the flamboyant Petruchio and the quarrelsome Katharina on which to base his creation.

Starring Ekaterina Krysanova as Katharina – in what The Guardian called a “particularly mesmerising” performance – and Vladislav Lantratov as Petruchio, this production of Shakespeare’s boisterous comedy tells how Katharina’s father, Baptista, tries to find a husband for his tempestuous daughter who is adamant that no man could possibly be her match. She has, however, reckoned without the equally truculent temperament of Petruchio, who finally succeeds in taming this particular shrew, resulting in a very surprising love match.

The cast also includes Olga Smirnova as Bianca, Semyon Chudin as Lucentio, Anna Tikhomirova as The Housekeeper, Artemy Belyakov as Baptista, Igor Tsvirko as Hortensio,
Vyacheslav Lopatin as Gremio and Georgy Gusevas as Grumio.

The score is taken from a selection of works by Dmitri Shostakovich – mainly those written for the cinema – and the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra is directed by Igor Dronov, Professor of Conducting at the Moscow Conservatory, conductor of the Russian Philharmonia, and guest conductor for a number of Russian and international orchestras.

Jean-Chrisophe Maillot put together a production team drawn from a group of artists with whom he has developed a relationship built on trust and experience. Dramatisation is by author, Jean Rouaud, set design by Ernest Pignon-Ernest, and lighting by Dominique Drillot, with Bernice Coppieters, Prima Ballerina of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, as Assistant Choreographer.

In 2015, Jean-Christophe Maillot won a Golden Mask Award for his choreography, and Ekaterina Krysanova and Vladislav Lantratov each received a Golden Mask for Best Dancer in their respective categories. The Golden Mask is a National Theatre Award in Russia given for excellence in productions in all genres of theatre art. Golden Mask is also an all-Russian Performing Arts Festival that takes place in Moscow in the spring of each year, presenting the most significant performances from all over Russia.

Presented by BY Experience and Pathé Live, the Bolshoi Ballet’s production of The Taming of the Shrew, captured live from Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre, will be screened in over 400 cinemas in the US and Canada on Sunday, November 19 at 12.55 pm local time. For a complete list of theatre locations, visit the Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema website, where tickets can be purchased.  Tickets are also available at the box offices of participating theatres.

Sources of information:

Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema

Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo


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Zukerman plays Beethoven with MTT and San Francisco Symphony

Pinchas Zukerman

It’s all happening at Davies Symphony Hall this week. Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony present a program of works by Ives and Beethoven; the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra, led by Christian Reif, plays the first concert of its 35th anniversary season, and MTT and the Symphony present Symphony Relief: A Benefit Concert for the North Bay, in aid of victims of the wildfires which devastated parts of Northern California last month.

In the first program of the week, MTT leads the San Francisco Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus (Director Ragnar Bohlin) in the Symphony No 4 by Charles Ives, with guest pianist Peter Dugan, and second conductor Christian Reif. Also on the program is Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, with virtuoso Pinchas Zukerman as guest artist for the first two performances. Violinist Viviane Hagner makes her SFS debut in the same work in the third performance.

Ives’ Symphony No 4 is considered to be one of his greatest masterpieces. It’s a complex, multi-layered work consisting of four movements – a prelude, a fugue, a third movement which includes a selection of parlor songs, marches, ragtime melodies, patriotic songs and hymns, and a spiritual finale. Ideally it requires more than one conductor to help pull it all together, hence the appearance of Christian Reif with MTT.

Charles Ives spent decades composing this work, writing the Prelude in 1916-17, the Allegretto between 1916 and 1918, the Fugue around 1912-13, and the Largo between 1915-16 – with revisions of each movement being made in the intervening and following years, until 1925. The Symphony in its entirety, however, didn’t reach the concert hall until 50 years later, in 1965.

Pianist Peter Dugan is as comfortable with jazz and pop as he is with classical music hence his debut with the Symphony in June this year in the Music for a Modern Age concert. Adding to his classical credentials is a review following his appearance, with baritone John Brancy, at the Kohn Foundation Song Competition at the Wigmore Hall in London in September. “…. it was the delicacy of phrasing, the smartness of the segues and the range of colour from the pianist Peter Dugan that really struck” wrote The Times.

The genius of Pinchas Zukerman attracts reviews such as this from the Glasgow Herald, which – referring to “the Zukerman tone” – declares: “There is no other like it….His sound is utterly inimitable – as it has been for more than 30 years – from its intense sweetness on high to its throaty richness at the depths of the instrument….And the molten gold that streams from the instrument is completely breathtaking. Fabulous playing.” The Los Angeles Times has described Mr Zukerman as “the forever-young virtuoso: expressively resourceful, infectiously musical, technically impeccable, effortless”, adding “… it was a joy to be in his musical company.”

Viviane Hagner

The soloist on Saturday evening is Munich-born violinist Vivane Hagner, of whom The Washington Post wrote: “Her rich, burnished tone, crystalline articulation and subtle expression grab attention and leave a lasting impression”. Ms Hagner made her stage debut at the age of thirteen in the legendary joint concert given in Tel Aviv by the Israel and Berlin Philharmonics in 1990, led by Zubin Mehta.  Since then she has appeared with some of the world’s leading orchestras and conductors. She also has a special interest in new, undiscovered and neglected works. In 2002 she gave the world premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Violin Concerto, with Kent Nagano and the Deutsche Sinfonie-Orchester Berlin, and she’s a champion of composers such as Sofia Gubaidulina, Karl Amadeus Hartmann and Witold Lutoslawski.

Michael Tilson Thomas, assisted by Christian Reif, leads the San Francisco Symphony and San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in performances of Charles Ives’ Symphony No 4 – with pianist Peter Dugan – from November 16 to 18 at Davies Symphony Hall. These performances are to be recorded live for later release on SFS Media. Guest artist Pinchas Zukerman joins MTT and the Symphony for performances of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto on November 16 and 17. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

MTT will lead a performance of the same program on Saturday, November 18, with violinist Viviane Hagner playing the Beethoven concerto. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.



Information sourced from:

San Francisco Symphony program notes

Ives Symphony No 4

Peter Dugan

Pinchas Zukerman

Viviane Hagner


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SFJAZZ presents the Brazilian sound of Kurt Rosenwinkel

Kurt Rosenwinkel – Photo courtesy SFJAZZ

Having initially made his name as a jazz guitarist and keyboardist, Kurt Rosenwinkel – appearing in the Miner Auditorium at SFJAZZ this weekend – has also made his name as a player, composer and bandleader over his 25-year career.

He made his debut recording for a major label (Verve) in 2000 with the album The Enemies of Energy, and since then he has collaborated with some of the world’s great saxophonists, and released a further 12 albums, including the “bracingly beautiful” (SFJAZZ) Star of Jupiter which he produced, and for which he composed all the music.  He was joined for this recording by keyboardist Aaron Parks, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Justin Faulkner.

This year, Kurt Rosenwinkel has released the first album on his own label, Heartcore Records, and has branched out into some highly creative compositions with a heavy Brazilian flavor. Entitled Caipi, it features the music which he performs at SFJAZZ this weekend.

The album has taken him 10 years to complete, and is described by AllMusic as “an utterly alluring, captivatingly realized production” – which features guest slots by Eric Clapton and saxophonist Mark Turner. On the album, Rosenwinkel plays almost all of the instruments, and, backed by an ensemble, also sings – his voice, according to AllMusic, being perfectly suited to the Brazilian sound.

Kurt Rosenwinkel is in the Miner Auditorium at SFJAZZ for four performances, on Saturday and Sunday, November 11 and 12. For further information and tickets, visit the SFJAZZ website.

Making a return visit to SFJAZZ this weekend, and appearing in the Joe Henderson Lab, is the Guilia Valle Trio. Composer and bass virtuoso, Italian-born Giulia grew up in Barcelona where she became part of that city’s highly creative jazz scene, further developing her style – which reflects Spanish, Brazilian and Argentine influences – in both Paris and New York City.

Barcelona daily Avui/El Punt describes Giulia Valle as “pure passion on the strings and maximum intensity in composition”, and Revista Enderrock writes that she is “one of the most promising and interesting emerging artists from the European scene”.

She also leads the Giulia Valle Quintet, and a more recently formed group, ‘Líbera’. She has appeared on at least 15 albums and won a number of awards, mainly for her compositions. As leader of her quintet, Giulia has performed at international festivals and in clubs, and has recorded several shows for Catalan Television with both the quintet and also with Libera. She also manages to find the time to teach bass and combo at the escola de Música de Badalona and at the Escola superior de Música de Catalunya.

Giulia Valle, with pianist Aruan Ortiz and drummer Kush Abbadey, is in the Joe Henderson Lab for two performances on Friday, November 10. More detail, and information on tickets, can be found on the SFJAZZ website.


Sources of information:

SFJAZZ program notes



Artists’ websites:

Kurt Rosenwinkel

Giulia Valle


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Alonzo King brings ‘The Propelled Heart’ back to San Francisco

Lisa Fischer with dancers of Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet – from video clip, courtesy LINES Ballet

Well known for his collaborations with composers, musicians and visual artists – including Edgar Meyer, Pharaoh Sanders, Hamza El Din, Pawel Szymanski, Jason Moran and Zakir Hussain – visionary choreographer Alonzo King presented a highly successful program in 2015, which featured vocalist Lisa Fischer on stage with his LINES Ballet.

Entitled The Propelled Heart, this work paid tribute to the power of song, and those who enjoyed this production will be delighted to hear that King is bringing it back to San Francisco to celebrate LINES Ballet’s 35th season.

Fischer, who has performed as a backing artist for her mentor Luther Vandross and for The Rolling Stones, has also appeared with a range of stars, including Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Beyoncé and Sting. She won a 1992 Grammy for her single How Can I Ease the Pain from her 1991 album So Intense, and was one of the stars who performed in the Academy Award-winning documentary Twenty Feet From Stardom, which also won a 2015 Grammy Award. Other illustrious artists with whom Lisa Fischer has collaborated include pianist Lang Lang, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and jazz pianist Billy Childs.

On tour with her trio, Grand Baton, she has received rave reviews from The New York Times – “She brought down the house in the single best show I’ve seen in the many years I’ve visited Birdland”; The DailyStar – “Sometimes you just have to close your eyes and bask in the raw talent of an artist… a powerhouse with a monumental range”; and Broadway World, which wrote of her “astonishing range, perfect intonation, mastery of the stage. Her glamorous-girl-next-door quality makes fans all over the world think she’s their own secret discovery”.

Alonzo King describes her as “…. a brilliant artist with a fully throbbing heart and expansive mind … an inspiration of sound, body and being”.  He’ll be taking The Propelled Heart on tour to Théâtre National de Chaillot in Paris in March 2018.

LINES Ballet’s Shuaib Elhassan in ‘The Propelled Heart’ – Photo: RJ Muna

Alonzo King and his LINES Ballet present The Propelled Heart, with Lisa Fischer, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater from November 15-19, 2017. For more information and tickets, visit, or call 415.978.2787.


Sources of information:

LINES Ballet Company program notes

Lisa Fischer


ArtsPreview home page

Napa Valley Film Festival goes ahead as planned

The Uptown Theatre, Napa

Despite the ravages to the Napa Valley region from the recent devastating wildfires, co-founders and directors of the Napa Valley Film Festival, Marc and Brenda Lhormer, are undeterred. They are going ahead with the screening of all 120 films, the culinary demonstrations, wine tastings and events that make this annual event so special.

With 10% of Pass Sales – from October 16 through the duration of the event –  being donated to the Napa Valley Community Foundation’s Disaster Relief Fund, the festival will contribute to the efforts to rebuild and heal this beautiful and much loved part of Northern California. In addition, Lexus – the Presenting Sponsor of the film festival – is donating 1,000 free tickets to select films to those impacted by the fires.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Sweet in ‘The Current War’

During the festival, over 120 new independent films and studio previews will be shown, in nine different venues throughout Napa Valley. Included in the line-up of films are award-contenders such as Call Me By Your Name, I, Tonya, Molly’s Game and The Shape of Water, and the wide range of films features stars such as Maude Apatow, Ashanti, Ellen Burstyn, Asa Butterfield, Giancarlo Esposito, Amy Madigan, Zosia Mamet, Dash Mihok, Nick Offerman, Lou Diamond Phillips, Lakeith Stanfield and Usher.

Celebrity Tribute Honorees include Will Ferrell (Maverick Actor Tribute), Nancy Meyers (Legendary Filmmaker Award), Michael Shannon (Trailblazer Tribute) and Michael Stuhlbarg (Spotlight Tribute). Ana de Armas, Odeya Rush, Austin Stowell, Gregg Sulkin and Alex Wolff will receive Rising Star Tributes, and a Special Humanitarian Tribute will be given to Nikki Reed and Ian Somerhalder

Among additional actors expected to attend are David Arquette, Zoey Deutch, Lou Diamond Phillips, Thomas Middleditch, Haley Joel Osment, Dennis Quaid, Jim Rash, Eric Stoltz, Lea Thompson, Elijah Wood, and over 300 filmmakers are also expected to be present.

Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston in ‘The Upside’

The Napa Valley Film Festival takes place from November 8 to 12, and more details can be found at, or by calling 707-226-7500.



All photographs courtesy Napa Valley Film Festival

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Dehn & Fabiano debut in San Francisco Opera’s ‘Manon’

Michael Fabiano and Ellie Dehn in Massenet’s ‘Manon’ – © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

It is 19 years since San Francisco Opera last staged Jules Massenet’s Manon, and this weekend sees the opening of a new production by French director Vincent Boussard – co-produced by Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre, and the Israeli Opera. It features two role debuts – soprano Ellie Dehn in the title role, and tenor Michael Fabiano as her lover the Chevalier des Grieux.  The San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Director Ian Robertson) are led by Massenet specialist, French conductor Patrick Fournillier, who conducted Alfano’s Cyrano de Bergerac for the Company in 2010 and Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann in 2013.

Manon, a five-act opéra comique, premiered in Paris in January 1884. The French libretto, by Henri Meilhac and Philippe Gille, is based on  the 1731 novel L’histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut, by a Benedictine monk Prévost d’Exiles, about a wilful girl who is torn between true love and a desire for wealth and luxury. Considered scandalous at the time, it was immediately banned.  Massenet and his librettists took a fair amount of poetic license with their adaptation of the story, as did others, such as Puccini, who wrote another opera, which he called Manon Lescaut, in 1893. The character of Massenet’s Manon, is however, neither wilful nor conniving – as she appeared in the original novel. Rather, he presents her as frivolous and impetuous, and possibly rather naive.

Ellie Dehn as Manon and Michael Fabiano as des Grieux – © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The story he tells is of the beautiful young Manon, who – on her way to a convent – stops in Amiens to see her cousin, Lescaut, and there falls for the handsome young Chevalier des Grieux. They run away to Paris together, but – fascinated by the wealth of an older man, De Brétigny – she deserts des Grieux for a life of luxury, and the fashionable salons of Paris. When she hears that, in his heartbreak des Grieux has decided to become a priest, she rushes back to him, and they set up home together once more.

Living a life of poverty, des Grieux and Manon are forced to resort to gambling, and ultimately both are arrested on a charge of cheating. She is also accused of prostitution. Des Grieux’s father manages to have him released, but Manon faces deportation to a penal colony. Her cousin Lescaut travels with des Grieux to Le Havre – from where her ship will be departing – in the hope of rescuing Manon, but she is desperately ill. Begging her lover’s forgiveness for her frivolity and past misdemeanors, she collapses, and dies in his arms.

Scene from San Francisco Opera’s production of ‘Manon’ – © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Ellie Dehn was last seen for San Francisco Opera during this year’s summer season when she sang the role of Musetta in Puccini’s La bohème. Known for her versatility, Ms Dehn has a wide repertoire, has become known as a specialist in works by Mozart, and has appeared on the stages of some of the world’s major opera houses, including the Metropolitan Opera, Teatro alla Scala, The Royal Opera House, Bayerische Staatsoper, Los Angeles Opera, Houston Grand Opera, San Diego Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Santa Cecilia, and the opera houses of Geneva, Rome, and Bologna.

Later this season, Ms Dehn will make her company debut at Dallas Opera as Donna Elvira in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. She will return to Grande Théâtre de Genève as the Countess in Figaro Gets a Divorce – a modern addition to the Figaro trilogy composed by Elena Langer – and will again sing the role of Musetta in Puccini’s La bohème at Teatro di San Carlo di Napoli.

David Pershall as Lescaut with members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus – © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

American tenor Michael Fabiano, a firm favorite with opera audiences in San Francisco, sings the role of des Grieux for the first time, in this production. It’s also his first role in French for San Francisco Opera.  Having won both the Beverly Sills Artist Award and the Richard Tucker Award in 2014, Fabiano hasn’t looked back. In 2015 he made international headlines, stepping in to sing the role of Edgardo in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor at the Metropolitan Opera at only seven hours’ notice.

Following Michael Fabiano’s appearance in Massenet’s Hérodiade in 2016, The Washington Post wrote: “I’ve raved before about Michael Fabiano. . . , but I don’t know that I’ve ever heard him sing with the clarity and power he brought to the role of Jean (John the Baptist) on Sunday, his sound heroic and translucent, with no evident strain, culminating in a showstopping performance of his aria Adieu donc, vains objets in Act IV”.

Ellie Dehn (center) as Manon – © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

This current season is proving to be one of exciting opportunities for the American tenor. His first engagement was the role of Rodolfo in The Royal Opera House production of Puccini’s La bohème in September. Conducted by Anthony Pappano, it was the first new production of this opera by the ROH in over 40 years. During the season, Michael Fabiano returns to Covent Garden to appear as the Duke in Rigoletto – a role in which he makes his Los Angeles Opera debut. He will be back at the Metropolitan Opera to sing the role of Rodolfo, and once again appear as Edgardo, a role which he will also perform in Opera Australia’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor.

Described by The Observer as “….. surely one of the most electrifying singers on the Met’s roster”, Michael Fabiano will achieve international exposure as well, since The Royal Opera productions of La bohème and Rigoletto, as well as the Metropolitan Opera’s La bohème, will be screened globally in HD during the season.

Michael Fabiano and Ellie Dehn in Massenet’s ‘Manon’ – © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The cast for San Francisco Opera’s production of Manon also includes baritone David Pershall as Manon’s cousin Lescaut, bass James Creswell as Comte des Grieux, baritone Timothy Mix as the wealthy De Brétigny and tenor Robert Brubaker as Guillot de Morfontaine. Soprano Monica Dewey makes her Company debut as Pousette, mezzo-soprano Laura Krumm is Javotte and mezzo-soprano Renée Rapier is Rosette.

Sung in French with English supertitles, Manon runs at the War Memorial Opera house for six performances, until November 22. For more information and tickets, please visit the San Francisco Opera website.


Sources of information:

San Francisco Opera program notes

Opera Today

World Digital Library

Vincent Boussard

Ellie Dehn

Michael Fabiano


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San Francisco Opera’s ‘Rigoletto’ airs on Classical KDFC Sunday evening

Scene from San Francisco Opera’s ‘Rigoletto’ – © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

On Classical KDFC, the first Sunday evening in the month belongs to San Francisco Opera, and the production on November 5 is Rob Kearley’s highly acclaimed revival of Verdi’s Rigolettothe tragic tale of a father’s attempts to save his beloved daughter from a disastrous relationship, a daughter who sacrifices everything by succumbing to the allure of a fascinating stranger, and a lecherous duke who’ll stop at nothing to get what he wants.  It was recorded during a live performance at the War Memorial Opera House  in June this year.

Rigoletto holds a special place in the history of San Francisco Opera. It was performed during the Company’s inaugural season in 1923, conducted by founder Gaetano Merola, with baritone Guiseppe De Lluca as Rigoletto, tenor Beniamino Gigli as the Duke and soprano Queena Mario as Gilda.

Hawaiian tenor Quinn Kelsey in the title role – © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The performance to be broadcast on Sunday stars Hawaiian baritone Quinn Kelsey – a graduate of San Francisco’s Merola Opera Program – in the title role, and Georgian soprano Nino Machaidze as his daughter Gilda.  New Zealand tenor Pene Pati – a current San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow – can be heard as the Duke of Mantua.  The San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Chorus Director Ian Robertson) are conducted by Music Director Nicola Luisotti.

One of the world’s most popular operas, Rigoletto has a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, and was based on Victor Hugo’s play Le roi s’amuse. It was first performed at La Fenice in Venice on March 11, 1851, with the title La maledizione (The Curse). It was so named because of a curse placed on both the Duke of Mantua and Rigoletto – his hunch-backed jester – by a nobleman, Monterone, in wrathful revenge after his daughter had been seduced by the Duke, aided and abetted by Rigoletto.

Reginald Smith, Jr. as Count Monterone in Verdi’s ‘Rigoletto’ – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Rigoletto, though, has his own daughter, Gilda, whom he tries to keep hidden from the court, but the Duke and Gilda eventually meet – he vows to have his way with her, and she – being completely smitten with him – doesn’t object. Rigoletto ultimately finds out about this relationship, and – haunted by Monterone’s curse – plots to have the Duke murdered by Sparafucile, a local innkeeper who offers to do the dirty deed for him. Unfortunately for Rigoletto – who has spent his life manipulating others and taking pleasure from their discomfort – his plans go dreadfully awry, and his beloved daughter is killed instead, the result of his own scheming – or perhaps the partial fulfillment of Monterone’s curse.

Quinn Kelsey’s 2014 performance as Rigoletto for English National Opera, drew the following comment from The Guardian/Observer: “While his music explodes with all too human anguish, his brutal nature, superbly portrayed by the Hawaiian baritone Quinn Kelsey, is repellent. His boorish, tortured performance, together with a voice rich and secure from bottom to high top, is incomparable.”  Earlier this year Mr Kelsey appeared in the Lyric Opera of Chicago production of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, Verdi’s Il Trovatore at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and in a new production of Rigoletto for Oper Frankfurt.  He closes 2017 with a debut performance as Peter in Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel for the Metropolitan Opera under Sir Donald Runnicles.

Nino Machaidze as Gilda and Pene Pati as the Duke of Mantua in Verdi’s ‘Rigoletto’ Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Tbilisi-born soprano Nino Machaidze – described by Opera News as “an artist with confidence, individuality and a big musical temperament to back up a glamorous profile” – is a graduate of the Accademia del Teatro alla Scala in Milan. Her international career was launched with appearances at La Scala as Marie in Donizetti’s La Fille du Regiment in 2007, followed by her debut in the same role at the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma. The summer of 2008 saw Ms Machaidze’s debut at the Salzburg Festival as Juliette, opposite Rolando Villazon, in a new production of Romeo et Juliette, and subsequent international debuts include appearances at major opera houses such as the Metropolitan Opera, Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, Berliner Staatsoper, Gran Teatro del Liceu in Barcelona, Theatre Royale de la Monnaie in Brussels, Opera National de Paris, The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and Los Angeles Opera.

Samoan-born tenor Pene Pati has been described by the San Francisco Chronicle as “A New Zealander who boasts a lithe and radiant tone, deep theatrical instincts and plenty of charisma”. He has a number of impressive awards to his name – the Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonygne ‘Bel Canto’ Award in 2012, first place at the Montserrat Caballé International Aria Competition in 2014, second place and the Audience Prize at Placido Domingo’s Operalia in 2015, and Second Prize in that year’s Neue Stimmen Competition as well. For Pene Pati, this particular production of Rigoletto was something of a family affair. In what San Francisco Opera describes as “a remarkable coincidence of casting” his wife, second year Adler Fellow soprano Amina Edris, sings the role of Countess Ceprano, and his brother, first year Adler Fellow tenor Amitai Pati, sings Matteo Borsa.

Pene Pati as the Duke of Mantua and Zanda Svede as Maddalena in Verdi’s Rigoletto’ – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Also in the cast are Latvian mezzo-soprano Zanda Švēde – who recently completed her final year as an Adler Fellow at San Francisco Opera – as Maddalena, Sparafucile’s daughter. Making his debut for SF Opera as Count Monterone, is Reginald Smith Jr – described by Opera News as having “one of the most exciting baritone sounds to come along in years” with a voice which is “ample and thrillingly dramatic”. Sparafucile is sung by bass Andrea Silvestrelli, following whose debut in this role at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Chicago Sun-Times reported: “There were wild cheers for Andrea Silvestrelli …who brought a terrifying, sepulchral tone to the assassin Sparafucile.”

San Francisco Opera’s Rigoletto airs on KDFC, the Bay Area’s classical radio station, at 8.00 pm on Sunday, November 5.  Check tuning frequencies, or listen online, at


Merola Opera Program


Artists’ websites:

Quinn Kelsey

Nino Machaidze

Pene Pati

Zanda Svede

Reginald Smith Jr

Andrea Silvestrelli

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