Opéra Nice production of Philip Glass’s ‘Akhnaten’ now online

The Prélude to Philip Glass’s ‘Akhnaten’

Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur has opened the 2020/21 season with a spectacular online production – the opera Akhnaten by contemporary composer Philip Glass, produced and choreographed by Lucinda Childs.

Originally intended to run for four performances as of 1st November, the Akhnaten season had to be postponed, due to the enforced closure of theatres during the November lockdown in France. The production was, however, filmed for screening online, and is now available for viewing, enabling not only local audiences to enjoy it, but audiences around the world as well.

Created in 1984, with a libretto by Philip Glass, Shalom Goldman, Robert Israel and Richard Riddell, Akhnaten is the third of a trilogy of Glass’s operas inspired by important personalities or great moments in history – the preceding works being Einstein on the Beach, written in 1976 and directed by Robert Wilson, and Satyagraha, a 1980 work which traces Mahatma Gandhi’s development of non-violent protests as a political tool. Akhnaten premiered at the Staatstheater Stuttgart on the 24th of March, 1984.

The funeral of Amenhotep III

Philip Glass is regarded as one of the most interesting and versatile composers of his time. In addition to his operas, symphonies, and compositions for his own ensemble, he has collaborated with a wide range of artists – from Twyla Tharp to Allen Ginsberg, Woody Allen and David Bowie – he has written music for experimental theatre, and scores for Academy Award-winning films such as Stephen Daldry’s The Hours and Martin Scorsese’s Kundun. He also wrote the score – performed by the Philip Glass Ensemble – for Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi, described on Glass’s website as “an apocalyptic vision of the collision of two different worlds — urban life and technology versus the environment”.

The collaboration between Lucinda Childs and Philip Glass goes back a number of years. She appeared in Glass and Wilson’s Einstein on the Beach – for which she won an Obie Award – and subsequently appeared in Glass’s opera White Raven. Glass also composed the score for her 1979 work Dance. Childs has choreographed over thirty works for major ballet companies – including the Paris Opéra Ballet and Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo – and has directed and choreographed a number of contemporary and 18th-century operas – for companies such as Los Angeles Opera, La Monnaie in Brussels, and for Opera du Rhin.

In a first for France, and due to the current health crisis, Lucinda Childs conducted rehearsals for Akhnaten by video conference on a large screen, from one continent to another. As a result, the Direction of the Opéra de Nice has placed digital technology at the heart of this production – a challenge for both the artistic and technical teams.

Akhnaten is set in Ancient Egypt, and based on the accession to the throne of the pharaoh Amenhotep IV, on his religious convictions, and the consequences of his actions. Presented as a combination of song, dance and music, the opera has a libretto by Philip Glass, Shalom Goldmann, Robert Israël and Richard Ridell, with the text drawing on ancient hymns, prayers and inscriptions, sung in their original Egyptian, Hebrew and Akkadian form.

At the funeral of Amenhotep III – thought to have been around 1351 BC – his son, who is crowned the new pharaoh, announces his intention to change his name from Amenhotep IV – “spirit of Amon” – to Akhnaten – “spirit of Aten”. He also leads a revolt to banish the existing religion in the country, and replace it with a monotheistic one in which the sun god is to be the sole divinity of Egypt. He banishes the priests of Amon and forms the new order of Aten.

Fabrice Di Falco sings the title role

The new city of Akhetaten – “the City of the Horizon of Aten” – is built in praise of the new religion, and there Akhnaten, his wife Nefertiti, their six daughters and his mother, Queen Tye, live an insular life. Queen Tye, however, is uneasy, sensing the unrest which is growing outside the city walls. Crowds begin to gather outside the gates, and letters arrive, expressing increasing concern at the self-imposed isolation in which Akhnaten and his family live. The banished priests of Amon emerge from the crowds and break through the palace doors, and in the ensuing melee, Queen Tye, Nefertiti and her daughters are drawn into the mass of protesters. Akhnaten is killed.

Akhnaten’s son, Tutankhamun, is crowned the new pharaoh, and the polytheistic religion of Egypt is restored. In the Epilogue to the opera, the ghosts of Akhnaten, Nefertiti and Queen Tye are heard from the ancient world.

Scene from ‘Akhnaten’ featuring the High Priest Amon, Horemheb and Aye

The title role will be sung by Martinique-born countertenor Fabrice Di Falco. Often called the ‘Creole Farinelli’, he has been praised by music critics for the quality of his pure timbre and the breadth of his repertoire which ranges from baroque to jazz, to musical comedy, and contemporary music where he uses both his male soprano and his baritone voice. He has appeared in a number of renowned international festivals, and among his opera performances was the role of Oberon in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Nice Opera House, which he also sang at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, at Metz Oper and Dubai Opera.

French mezzo-soprano Julie Robard-Gendre takes the role of Nefertiti. Ms Robard-Gendre has appeared in major opera houses across France – including Opera de Rennes in which she sang the title role in Bizet’s Carmen, broadcast live across the country – as well as appearing in Dvořák’s Rusalka for Opera Monte-Carlo, and in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte and Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots at the Paris National Opera.

Queen Tye is sung by Italian soprano Patrizia Ciofi whose career has taken her to some of the world’s major opera houses including La Scala, Milan, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the National Opera of Paris, and the Vienna Staatsoper. Her repertoire includes appearances in Verdi’s La Traviata and Rigoletto, Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier and Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi and La Sonnambula.

Scene from Act I of ‘Akhnaten’

Also in the cast are Joan Martín-Royo as Horemheb, Frédéric Diquero as the High Priest Amon, Vincent Le Texier as Aye, and Lucinda Childs in the speaking role of Amenhotep. The six daughters of Akhnaten are danced by students of the Rosella Hightower National Dance Centre.

The Nice Philharmonic Orchestra is led by Léo Warynski, known for his appearances in the symphonic, lyric and vocal repertoires. He is musical director of the Multilatérale Ensemble, the professional vocal ensemble Les Métaboles – which he founded in 2010 – and Mécénat Musical Société Générale.

The Chorus of the Opéra de Nice is directed by Giulio Magnanini, choreography is by Lucinda Childs and Eric Oberdorff, set and costumes by Bruno De Lavenère, lighting by David Debrinay and video by Etienne Guiol.

Philip Glass’s three-act opera Akhnaten – with prologue and epilogue – is produced as part of the Festival MANCA Nice. With French and English subtitles, the opera in its entirety can be viewed free of charge on the following link, and will be available until 10th December.

For further information, visit the Opera Nice website.

All photographs courtesy of Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur.

Information sourced from:

Opera Nice programme notes

Philip Glass

Lucinda Childs

Metropolitan Opera programme notes

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San Francisco Playhouse launches new season with online video stream of ‘Art’

Serge (Johnny Moreno), Marc (Jomar Tagatac), and Yvan (Bobak Bakhtiari) in ‘Art’

In a hugely welcome development, San Francisco Playhouse directors Bill English and Susi Damilano are thrilled to announce their first production of the new season – an online video stream of Yasmina Reza’s highly successful play, Art.

Filming took place this week at the Playhouse, with professional costumes, set, lighting, sound and props design, making this much-loved venue one of the first theatres in the United States to be granted permission to film an on-stage production. The final cut premieres online today – Saturday, October 24th – and will be available to view on-demand through November 7th.

Yvan (Bobak Bakhtiari) and Serge (Johnny Moreno) laugh about Serge’s new painting

Yasmina Reza’s French-language play has proved immensely popular since its 1994 premiere at Comédie des Champs-Élysées in Paris. The English version, translated by Christopher Hampton, initially opened in London’s West End on October 15th, 1996, at Wyndham’s Theatre, before moving to the Whitehall Theatre in October 2001. Starring Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay and Ken Stott, it ran for eight years, with a succession of star casts. On Broadway, Art opened in 1998, and ran for 600 performances, receiving a Tony award for best new play.

Described by The Times as “A remarkably wise, witty and intelligent comedy”, Art was also said by The Times to have “touched a universal nerve” – an observation which may just be the reason for the success of the play. Based on an apparently simply premise, it revolves around three friends, one of whom, Serge (played by Johnny Moreno), buys a ‘painting’ – an apparently plain white canvas – by a fashionable artist, for what’s perceived to be a wildly unrealistic price. Marc (Jomar Tagatac), with whom Serge has been friends for a long time, thinks it’s rubbish, while Yvan, played by Bobak Cyrus Bakhtiari – a friend of both – tries to pour oil on troubled waters, and succeeds only in antagonising both of them.

Serge (Johnny Moreno, right) shows off his new painting to Marc (Jomar Tagatac)

The obvious question posed by this dilemma is whether art has fallen victim to market values, and whether the higher the price tag, the greater value the work represents. There is, however, another thought which the playwright introduces – the link between taste and friendship, and whether people whose views on any aspect of the arts are diametrically opposed, can really sustain a genuine friendship.

Yasmina Reza – who is also an actress, screenwriter and novelist – has won the Prix Molière for several of her plays, following her first success with Conversations After A Burial in 1987. Art was the first of her plays to be widely seen outside France, and since then, others have been nominated at the Laurence Olivier Theatre Awards, including The Unexpected Man and Life x 3. God of Carnage won Best Play at the 2009 Tony Awards and in 1999 Reza was invited to join the jury at the Cannes Film Festival.

Yvan (Bobak Bakhtiari) and Marc (Jomar Tagatac) discuss their friend’s unexpected purchase

Christopher Hampton – British playwright, screenwriter, translator and film director – was the youngest writer ever to have a play staged in the West End. Prior to achieving fame for screenplays such as Atonement (2007), Dangerous Liaisons (1988) and The Quiet American (2002) among others, he was resident dramatist at the Royal Court Theatre during the late 1960s.

San Francisco Playhouse is the Bay Area’s premiere mid-sized theatre company, normally presenting over 400 performances a year. Located in the heart of the Union Square Theater District, it is the city’s Off-Broadway company, described by the New York Times as “A company [that] stages some of the most consistently high-quality work around”.

The dispute over the white painting between Marc (Jomar Tagatac), Yvan (Bobak Bakhtiari), and Serge (Johnny Moreno*) reaches a tipping point

Yasmina Reza’s Art, directed by Bill English, can be viewed as an on-demand video stream via the San Francisco Playhouse website where tickets can be purchased. Viewing is available worldwide from 8.00 pm (Pacific Time) on October 24th through November 7th.

All photographs courtesy San Francisco Playhouse

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PBS broadcasts documentary on Michael Tilson Thomas for US audiences

Michael Tilson Thomas – courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Highly charismatic, exceptionally creative and hugely popular with orchestras and audiences alike, Michael Tilson Thomas is the subject of the latest PBS documentary in its American Masters series – Michael Tilson Thomas: Where Now Is.

Recently retired after a 25-year tenure as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony, MTT – as he’s affectionately known throughout the world of music – now holds the title of Music Director Laureate of the Symphony, which means that he’ll still lead it in performances for four weeks in a year, and for special projects. He is also Conductor Laureate of the London Symphony Orchestra, and Co-Founder and Artistic Director of the Miami-based New World Symphony – the postgraduate orchestral academy which prepares young musicians of diverse backgrounds for leadership roles in classical music.

Other posts which MTT has held during his highly successful career include Assistant Conductor and pianist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, later becoming Principal Guest Conductor, Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, a Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and he’s internationally renowned as a guest conductor with a number of major American and European orchestras.

Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony forged a remarkable relationship, taking the Symphony to impressive heights, and broadening the appreciation of music, in the Bay Area in particular, with concert stagings of operas and musicals – from Britten’s Peter Grimes to Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov to Bernstein’s West Side Story and On the Town. MTT has also been a staunch supporter of music education in the Bay Area, providing every public school child in San Francisco with the opportunity to learn about classical music through the Symphony’s Adventures in Music initiative.

Tilson Thomas is an eleven-time Grammy Award winner, and in 2001, the Symphony became the first American orchestra to create its own audio/video label, SFS Media. This label produces the Orchestra’s CDs and DVDs, as well as radio and TV documentaries. MTT has made numerous television programs – for PBS, WNET, the BBC, CBS, NHK and a host of other outlets – and, together with the San Francisco Symphony, created Keeping Score for SFS Media. This multi-tiered media project for television, web sites and radio, featured the lives and music of eight great composers.

A noted composer, MTT has written a number of works for a wide range of ensembles and soloists, One of these works, From the Diary of Anne Frank, was commissioned by UNICEF and given its world premiere at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music in 1990 with the late Audrey Hepburn as narrator, and the composer conducting the New World Symphony.

Earlier this year, Michael Tilson Thomas became an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France, he is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has been profiled on CBS’s 60 Minutes and ABC’s Nightline. He has also been awarded the National Medal of Arts, has been inducted into the California Hall of Fame and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and was a 2019 recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors.

This PBS documentary looks at the life and career of one of the most important musical figures in America, featuring original interviews with MTT, and figures such as composer Steve Reich, Los Angeles Philharmonic CEO Chad Smith, pianist Ralph Grierson, Boston Symphony Orchestra CEO Mark Volpe, San Francisco Chronicle music critic Joshua Kosman, Humphrey Burton – former head of music and arts at the BBC – and Clive Gillinson, executive and artistic director of Carnegie Hall. There is commentary from architect Frank Gehry, with whom MTT collaborated in designing the New World Center, and from Joshua Robison, MTT’s husband and partner.

The American Masters documentary Michael Tilson Thomas: Where Now Is premieres in the United States on Friday, October 23rd, at 6.00 pm Pacific Time (check local times), and can be viewed on PBS, and the PBS Video app.

There’s another date for your diary, too, as PBS premieres Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony: S&M2, featuring MTT and the San Francisco Symphony with the heavy metal band, on Thursday, October 29 at 6.00 pm Pacific Time (check local times).

These broadcasts can be viewed only in the United States at this time.

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San Francisco Opera streams Verdi’s ‘Attila’

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

In the second production of its Fall ‘Opera is ON’ season, San Francisco Opera streams a performance of Giuseppi Verdi’s Attila, recorded during a live performance in 2012, marking only the second occasion on which this opera was staged at the War Memorial Opera House.

The title role is sung by Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto, with Venezuelan soprano Lucrecia García as Odabella. Hawaiian baritone Quinn Kelsey is Ezio, and Mexican tenor Diego Torre [] is Foresto.

Verdi’s Attila, with a libretto by Temistocle Solera and Francesco Maria Piave, is based on the play Attila, King of the Huns by Friedrich Ludwig Zacharias Werner. It tells the story of the power struggle between Attila the Hun and the Roman general Ezio for the control of Italy, and the revenge on Attila by one of his prisoners, Odabella, for the death of her father when Attila conquered the Italian city of Aquileia. Verdi set his opera in mid-5th century Rome, but – according to NPR – it would appear that it is in fact a reflection the 19th-century push for Italian independence from Austria. Verdi was one of the leading advocates of the Risorgimento (Resurgence) movement, who became something of a national hero due to his patriotic operas Attila, Nabucco and I Lombardi. Attila premiered on March 17th, 1846, at La Fenice Opera House in Venice.

Ferruccio Furlanetto regularly appears for companies such as the Metropolitan Opera, Vienna State Opera, Teatro Real, Madrid, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Paris Opéra, Bolshoi Theatre and Mariinsky Theatre. He is also a concert artist and recitalist, having sung Verdi’s Requiem on a number of occasions worldwide, including at the BBC Proms, and following a recital of Russian songs by Rachmaninov and Mussorgsky in Melbourne, ArtsHub described his voice being like “that of an ancient mountain god: deep, resonant and powerful”.

Venezuelan soprano Lucrecia García “made a superb company debut as Odabella”, wrote the San Francisco Chronicle, “in a performance marked by clarion, precise high notes, lustrous chest tones and striking flexibility in the role’s demanding passagework”. Ms Garcia has more recently appeared in Nabucco, Macbeth and Il Trovatore at La Scala, Un Ballo in Maschera in Frankfurt, Attila at the Theater an der Wien, Nabucco and Aida at the Arena in Verona, and Aida at the Opéra Bastille in Paris and also at the San Carlo Theater in Naples.

Quinn Kelsey, a graduate of San Francisco’s Merola Opera Program, is particularly noted for his performances in Verdi operas, and was described by La Scena Musicale as “an authentic Verdi baritone – a rare breed”. He has appeared on the stages of some of the major opera houses of the world, including the Metropolitan Opera, the Royal Opera, Opéra Bastille, Semperoper Dresden, Rome Opera and Deutsche Oper Berlin, and performed in the Metropolitan Opera’s New Year’s Eve Gala with soprano Anna Netrebko at the end of last year.

Mexican tenor Diego Torre has appeared in his signature role of Cavaradossi in Tosca in the United States, Australia, Mexico, Finland, Germany, Italy and China. In 2017 he became one of the few operatic tenors to have performed the roles of Turiddù in Cavalleria Rusticana and Canio in Pagliacci, in the same evening – for Opera Australia and more recently at Teatro Carlo Felice in Genova. Since then, he has appeared at the Grand-Théâtre de Genève, the Teatro Regio di Torino, Sydney Opera House and Teatro de Oviedo in Spain.

This San Francisco Opera production of Attila was staged by Italian actor, film director and director Gabriele Lavia. There’s an interesting discussion on this production between Mr Lavia and former Music Director of SF Opera, Nicola Luisotti in the Company program notes.

Scene from Verdi’s ‘Attila’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The sets are by Alessandro Camera, known for his designs for opera, drama and cinema productions. Costumes are by theatrical, film and operatic designer Andrea Viotti, and lighting by Christopher Maravich.

This co-production between San Francisco Opera and Milan’s Teatro alla Scala is led by Nicola Luisotti who conducts the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (director Ian Robertson). The opera is sung in Italian with English supertitles and is available to view at sfopera.com from 10.00 am PT on October 17th until 11.59 pm PT on October 18th.

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Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo launches Winter Season

Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo in Maillot’s ‘Altro Canto1’ © Alice Blangero

Breaking off from its highly successful, and ongoing tour, to Biarritz, the German city of Ludwigshafen and Paris, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo presents the first programme of the Winter Season in Monaco, showcasing two works by Choreographer-Director Jean-Christophe Maillot.

In the first programme of the Monaco season, the Company performs Altro Canto 1 and Vers un Pays Sage, both of which were recently performed at the closing of the 30th festival of Le Temps d’aimer la Danse in Biarritz last month.

Minimalist and abstract, Altro Canto 1 choreographed by Maillot in 2006, premiered at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco on 19th April that year. This work creates a mystical atmosphere, evoking the sensation experienced in a vaulted cathedral hall, or the twilight zone portrayed in some of the works of artist Georges de La Tour. Against a backdrop of light created by a floating sea of candles, the ballet is set to Claudio Monteverdi’s hauntingly beautiful Magnificat, with additional music by Biagio Marini and Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, the dancers swaying, vibrating and undulating – like fish in an ocean – in the gentle light.

The music is performed by the ensemble Akademia, under the baton of artistic director Françoise Lasserre. Costumes are by Karl Lagerfeld, scenography is by Rolf Sachs and lighting by Dominique Drillot.

By contrast, Maillot’s Vers un Pays Sage (Towards a Wise Country), is a ballet of rare physicality. It was created in 1995 as a tribute to the choreographer’s father, Jean Maillot – a painter and passionate workaholic, responsible for the creation of more than 260 designs and costumes for the opera, and who died at an early age. The ballet reflects the ebullience with which he approached his life and his work, and how this attitude hastened his early death. An ode to the excesses of Jean Maillot, the work poses the question as to whether it’s better to live one’s life cautiously or whether to attack it rashly and imprudently. Nevertheless, the ballet also pays tribute to the joy of togetherness and solidarity.

Vers un Pays Sage is set to what’s described as the “unbridled” music of San Francisco composer John Adams, giving no respite to the dancers, and presenting them with a challenge to “cross the finishing line”. It ends in a spirit of calm, against the backdrop of a painting by Jean Maillot, the colours of which serve as a reminder of the elusive shades, blends and complementary hues which characterise the work of the artist. The work premiered on 29th December, 1995, at the Salle Garnier Opéra de Monte-Carlo.

Scenography is by Jean-Christophe Maillot and Dominique Drillot, costumes by Jean-Christophe Maillot and Jean-Michel Lainé, and lighting is by Dominique Drillot.

This double bill by Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo will be staged at the Salle des Princes, Grimaldi Forum, Monaco, from 15th to 17th October. Tickets may be reserved online.

This article first appeared in Riviera Buzz.

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‘Opera is ON’ – San Francisco Opera streams Puccini’s ‘Tosca’

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Brian Jagde and Lianna Haroutounian in San Francisco Opera’s production of ‘Tosca’
© Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera continues to keep opera alive for its many enthusiasts – and in presenting the fall season online, gives many opera lovers the world over an opportunity to enjoy productions by this top tier company as well.

This fall, San Francisco Opera presents Puccini’s Tosca, Verdi’s Attila and Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro – all archived recordings from the Company’s repertoire filmed at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco.

Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca – the opening production of the season – was written in 1899 and based on Victorien Sardou’s 1887 play, La Tosca, which featured the actress Sarah Bernhard in the title role.  Set to a libretto by Luigi Illica and Guiseppe Giacosa, this historical melodrama takes place in 1800, when the control of Rome by the Kingdom of Naples was threatened by Napoleon’s invasion of Italy. It recounts the story of artist Mario Cavaradossi and the woman he loves, singer Floria Tosca, who puts herself at risk as they try to evade the corruption which was rife in the city of Rome at that time.

Tosca premiered at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome on 14 January 1900, and although it features some of the composer’s most beautiful and best known lyrical arias – such as Vissi d’arte and E lucevan le stelle – it was apparently not particularly well received by the critics. The audiences, however, loved it, and it has retained this popularity with opera-going audiences ever since.

The title role in this San Francisco Opera production is sung by Armenian soprano Lianna Haroutounian in what was her role debut and also her first appearance for the Company. Ms Haroutounian – of whom the San Francisco Chronicle wrote: “You could listen to her singing Puccini’s music all night” – is a much sought-after interpreter of the heroines of Verdi and Puccini, as well as of the French, Russian and Slavic repertoire.

Singing the role of Tosca’s lover, Mario Cavaradossi, is American tenor Brian Jagde – “an artist with a remarkable future” says Opera World. Mr Jagde has previously appeared in this role for San Francisco Opera, as well as in the roles of Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, Don José in Carmen and Calaf in Turandot.

The notorious villain and chief of police, Baron Scarpia, is sung by American Bass-baritone Mark Delavan who has appeared for San Francisco Opera more than 17 times. These include his portrayal of Wotan in the Company’s 2011 presentation of the Ring cycle – which won high praise – and his appearance as Scarpia in the 2012 production of Tosca.

Other members of the cast include bass Scott Conner as Angelotti, bass-baritone Dale Travis as the Sacristan, tenor Joel Sorensen sings Spoletta, baritone Efraín Solís appears as Sciarrone and baritone Hadleigh Adams as the Jailer.

Direction is by Jose Maria Condemi, whose engagements with San Francisco Opera also include productions of Carmen, Madama Butterfly, Faust, Così fan tutte, Un Ballo in Maschera, The Elixir of Love for Families and the 2013 world premiere of The Secret Garden.

San Francisco Opera’s production of Puccini’s ‘Tosca’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Designer Thierry Bosquet has a long history of set and costume design for San Francisco Opera. The design for Tosca – first conceived by Lotfi Mansouri in 1997- is based on the original by Armando Agnini for the Company’s first presentation of the work in the War Memorial Opera House in 1932.

Lighting is by the Company’s Resident Lighting Designer Gary Marder.

Italian maestro Riccardo Frizza – “one of the most sought after Bel Canto conductors” according to Opera Wire – leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus and the San Francisco Boys Chorus (Chorus Director Ian Robertson).

Puccini’s Tosca, performed in Italian with English supertitles, was recorded in October 2014, and can be viewed online on October 10th, from 10.00 am (PDT) until 11:59 pm on October 11th. For details, visit the San Francisco Opera website.

Information sourced from San Francisco Opera programme notes and artists’ websites.

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The Royal Ballet is back on stage

The Royal Ballet celebrates its return to the stage with a performance streamed live from the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden on 9th October.

In a programme curated by Director Kevin O’Hare, Royal Ballet principals – Matthew Ball, Federico Bonelli, Alexander Campbell, Francesca Hayward, Ryoichi Hirano, Sarah Lamb, Laura Morera, Vadim Muntagirov, Yasmine Naghdi, Marianela Nuñez, Natalia Osipova, Marcelino Sambé, Akane Takada and Edward Watson – are joined by the full Company and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, conducted by Jonathan Lo, with a selection of classical and contemporary works from the Company’s repertoire.

The programme is designed not only to highlight the artistry of the dancers, but also that of the creative and production teams of the Royal Opera House.

The performance will be available to watch – at a cost of £16 – on-demand from 7.30 pm BST on Friday, 9th October, for 30 days. For details on how to pre-order your ticket and access this broadcast, visit the Royal Opera House website.

The Royal Ballet streams Jerome Robbins’ ‘Dances at a Gathering’

When Jerome Robbins created Dances at a Gathering for New York City Ballet in 1969, he was returning to ballet after 13 highly successful years as a Broadway choreographer.

For the score, he turned to the music which had been his first love – the mazurkas, waltzes and études of Frédéric Chopin. He saw – beyond the dreamy, romantic and sentimental music of the Polish composer – “a kind of peasant roughness …. a bittersweet stab of memory” (according to his biographer Amanda Vaill), working the folk elements of Chopin’s music into his choreography, together with the range of emotions which a group of friends might experience in their relationships with each other.

The choreography includes Robbins’ signature touches of the Slavic folk culture of his heritage which so captivated him – the occasional foot stamp or toe-heel tap, the hand behind the head. Part of the ballet’s charm is the way in which the ten dancers appear to be together only for each other. At times it’s fun, at other times sweetly romantic or contemplative, but – as a work of pure classical ballet, it’s spellbinding – exquisite from beginning to end.

Dances at a Gathering has no storyline. As the name implies, it’s a series of dances which “should look like a group of friends together, just dancing” explains Jean-Pierre Frohlich, stager for the Robbins Rights Trust …… It was really just how Jerry related to the music and what the music meant to him. He used to say, ‘Let the music make you dance’ ” – and that’s just what it does.

The costuming is as timeless, elegant and uncomplicated as the work itself, the dancers clad in muted pastel shades, by which each of the couples is identified.

The Royal Ballet’s presentation of Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering’ is available to view online until 25th October, for just £3.00. Visit The Royal Ballet website for further details.

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Stellar line-up for SFJAZZ ‘Fridays at Five’ October broadcasts

The SFJAZZ Fridays at Five online sessions are proving hugely popular for jazz enthusiasts to share their love of the music, virtually bringing them to San Francisco from around the world, to enjoy an hour of stellar performances each week, to ‘meet’ the musicians, and also to support musicians in need.

During the month of October SFJAZZ will stream five concerts – each recorded during an actual performance at the JAZZ Center in San Francisco – featuring stars such as Bobi Céspedes with John Santos, Joanne Brackeen, Kris Davis and Helen Sung, Mary Stallings with the Bill Charlap Trio, the Taj Mahal Quartet and Lila Downs.

Bay Area vocalist, composer, band leader and educator, Bobi Céspedes, has been a leading figure in Cuban music both at home and internationally for the past 40 years. In June 2019 she presented a program of new songs in a world premiere staged at the JAZZ Center, joined by guest percussionist John Santos. This concert, to be streamed in Fridays at Five on October 2nd, celebrates both Céspedes’ new material, and her quarter-century collaboration with Santos.

Three jazz pianists joined forces at SFJAZZ in October 2018 to celebrate what would have been Thelonius Monk’s 101st birthday. NEA Jazz Master Joanne Brackeen, Kris Davis and Helen Sung represented two generations of piano virtuosity, honoring this celebrated artist and his substantial legacy of enduring compositions.


Joanne Brackeen – the recipient of numerous honors from educational institutions such as the Berklee College of Music and the International Association for Jazz Education – was the first and only female member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in 1969, and also appeared extensively with Joe Henderson and the Stan Getz Quartet.

Kris Davis, Downbeat magazine’s 2017 Rising Star Pianist, and 2018 Rising Star Artist, continued in winning vein last year when her next album, Diatom Ribbons – also featuring drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and percussionist Val Jeanty – was named the Best Jazz Album of 2019 by the New York Times. Following these successes, she is the 2020 winner the Jazz Journalists Association award for Composer & Pianist of the Year.

Helen Sung, a graduate of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance and winner of the Mary Lou Williams Jazz Piano Competition, has appeared with stars such as Wayne Shorter, Terri Lyne Carrington, Wynton Marsalis, MacArthur Fellow Regina Carter, and Cecile McLorin Salvant. Between European tours, her recent engagements include debut appearances at the London Jazz Festival, Jazz at Lincoln Center Shanghai, Blue Note Beijing and the Sydney International Women’s Jazz Festival.

The Thelonius Monk Birthday Celebration will be streamed by SFJAZZ on October 9th.

The following week, SFJAZZ streams the concert given by Mary Stallings and pianist Bill Charlap in March 2018 – during her week-long residency as SFJAZZ Artistic Director.

Regarded by the New York Times as “The best jazz singer alive today”, Mary Stallings has appeared with luminaries such as Cal Tjader, Dizzy Gillespie and the Count Basie Orchestra. Among her many achievements was her appearance at the Prague National Theatre in December 2011 – the first jazz artist to have performed at the home of classical music, opera and ballet since its construction in 1881. During her long association with SFJAZZ, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2011 Gala, and was the first performer in the historic Opening Night concert at the SFJAZZ Center in 2013.

Grammy award winning pianist Bill Charlap has appeared with some of the finest artists of our time, and leads one of the foremost groups in jazz – the trio he formed with bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington. Having celebrated his 15th year as Artistic Director of New York City’s Jazz in July Festival at 92Y in 2019, he has also produced concerts for Jazz at Lincoln Center, New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Chicago Symphony Center and the Hollywood Bowl.

Mary Stallings and Bill Charlap will appear in the Fridays at Five program on October 16th.

“What inspires me most about my career,” says Grammy-winning blues artist Taj Mahal, “is that I’ve been able to make a living playing the music that I always loved and wanted to play since the early 50s. And the fact that I still am involved in enjoying an exciting career at this point in time is truly priceless.” Join Taj and his quartet online on October 23 when SFJAZZ streams the concert in which he appeared in February of this year – one of the last performances before the JAZZ Center had to close its doors due to the pandemic. It’ll be a spirited affair from this long-time Berkeley resident, whose work embraces early jazz, rhythm and blues and soul music, combining the rhythms of West Africa, with those of New Orleans and the Caribbean.

The Taj Mahal Quartet are the star turn in the SFJAZZ Fridays at Five program on October 23.

Grammy winner Lila Downs is one of the most influential artists in Latin America, with her unique voice and charismatic performances, and her own compositions which combine Mexican rancheras and corridos, boleros, jazz standards, hip-hop, cumbia and popular American music. With a career bridging cultures and languages – as a musician and also a social activist – she is a multiple Latin Grammy winner, and celebrated the release of her Sony Music album, Salón, Lágrimas y Deseo (Salon, Tears and Desire) at a concert recorded at SFJAZZ in May 2019. It’s this performance which will be streamed in the October 30 session of Fridays at Five.

Fridays at Five is the SFJAZZ online concert series of weekly pre-recorded performances which can be viewed for just $5 a month ($60 annually). The concerts take place from 5.00 – 6.00 pm PT (8.00 – 9.00 pm ET, 1.00 – 2.00 am in London and 2.00 – 3.00 am in Paris), and proceeds will directly support SFJAZZ and the artists featured in these performances. Visit the SFJAZZ website for more details.

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