San Francisco Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’ goes online

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson

Good news from San Francisco Ballet! The Company’s annual production of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker will be streamed online from November 27th to December 31st, and not only will Bay Area audiences be able to enjoy it, but audiences from around the world will also be able to buy tickets to see this deservedly popular production.

Among highlights of this interactive virtual experience will be a tour of San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House, and the opportunity to enjoy historical highlights of San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker, a staging unique to the Company.

Virtual War Memorial Opera House dressed for Nutcracker Online /// © San Francisco Ballet

What makes this particular staging unique to San Francisco Ballet? Well, for a start the story is unmistakably set in San Francisco, in the early part of the 20th century – a highly appropriate tribute to the city, since in 1944 San Francisco Ballet was the first American company to stage the ballet.

Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson was keen for San Francisco audiences to be able to identify with this production, and to make it as authentic as possible, set designer Mike Yeargan carried out some detailed research on the city after the 1906 earthquake. He was therefore able to recreate just the sort of home in which a family such as the Stahlbaums would live – both the exterior and interior – hence the Victorian steps leading to the front door, the windows lit by candlelight, and the wreath on the door. Even the drawing room – scene of the Christmas Eve party in Act 1 – was designed from photographs and books published during that time.

Virtual War Memorial Opera House dressed for Nutcracker Online /// © San Francisco Ballet

The party follows tradition, with its gaiety and festive fun, and the arrival of the magical toy- and clockmaker Uncle Drosselmeyer who presents Clara with her nutcracker doll – soon to be transformed into a handsome prince. This is followed by the midnight battle between the toy soldiers and a hoard of rats and mice, witnessed by Clara in her dreams.

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson
San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson

Another notable difference in San Francisco Ballet’s version of Nutcracker comes with setting of the kingdom to which Clara and her Prince are transported. This kingdom was inspired by another important historical event in the history of San Francisco – the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition, held to celebrate both the opening of the Panama Canal and the re-emergence of the city after the devastating earthquake. So, having traveled through the Land the Snow – a sequence regarded as one of the most spectacular anywhere – Clara and the Prince find themselves in the Crystal Palace, ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy, and inhabited by dancing flowers, ladybugs, dragonflies and butterflies.

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson

The young couple are then entertained by dancers from some of the countries which were represented at the Exposition – fiery Spanish dancers from Madrid, the Arabian Genie accompanied by her two magicians, a Chinese dancer from the Chinatown district of San Francisco, three flirtatious French dancers from Paris with their can-can kicks and twirling ribbons, and the Russian dancers who burst onto the scene from giant Fabergé-style eggs. Madame du Cirque appears with her troop of little buffoons, and her furry friend, the cuddly brown bear makes an appearance too.

Clara – transformed into a beautiful Princess – dances a romantic pas de deux with her Prince, before waking from her fabulous dream, in her own bed, marveling at all she’s seen.

Yuan Yuan Tan in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Erik Tomasson

Choreography for San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker is by Helgi Tomasson, and Michael Yeargan’s beautiful sets are enhanced by the costume and lighting designs of the late Martin Pakledinaz and James Ingalls. The musicians of the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra are led by Music Director and Principal Conductor Martin West.

Tickets for San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker Online are on sale now. Online streaming will be available from noon (Pacific Time) on November 27th, until December 31st, and is best experienced on a computer, laptop or iPad.

For more details, please visit the San Francisco Ballet website.

Information sourced from San Francisco Ballet program notes.

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San Francisco Opera streams ‘Boris Godunov’

This weekend’s online stream from San Francisco Opera is Modest Mussorgsky’s operatic depiction of the troubled life of the rise and fall of the 16th century Tsar, Boris Godunov.

Recorded in 2008 at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco, this production of Boris Godunov – originally from Grand Théâtre de Genève – was the Company’s first staging of Mussorgsky’s original 1869 version of the opera. The composer – who also wrote the libretto – based his synopsis on Alexander Pushkin’s 1825 play of the same name.

After the deaths of Ivan the Terrible and his son Fyodor, Boris Godunov becomes Regent, as Ivan’s surviving son Dmitry, the Tsarevitch, is still a child. When Dmitry dies in mysterious circumstances, Boris, at the behest of a group of politicians, reluctantly agrees to become Tsar, hoping that no one will discover the secret that troubles him – his role in the assassination of the rightful heir to the throne. Boris is considered to be a good ruler, until a young monk Grigory, who bears a remarkable resemblance to the deceased Tsarevitch, decides to impersonate Dmitry and seize the throne. With pressure mounting on him from all sides, Boris begins to lose his sanity.

The title role in this production is taken by American bass Samuel Ramey, recipient of the 2003 San Francisco Opera Medal. Tenor John Uhlenhopp is Prince Shuisky, bass Vitalij Kowaljow is Pimen and bass Vladimir Ognovenko is the vagabond Varlaam. Former San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow Ji Young Yang and treble Jack Gorin are Boris Godunov’s daughter, Xenia, and son, Fyodor. Tenor Vsevolod Grivnov portrays Grigory, baritone Nicolai Janitzky is the secretary of the Duma, Shckelkalov, and former Adler Fellow Andrew Bidlack is the Simpleton.

Directing this production is internationally recognised Julia Pevzner, making her Company debut, and the producer is Norwegian producer and director Stein Winge, a former director at the National Theatre in London. Set designer is Göran Wassberg, costume designer is Kari Gravklev and lighting is by Duane Schuler.

Russian conductor Vassily Sinaisky leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus, and the San Francisco Girls and Boys choruses (Chorus Director Ian Robertson). Currently Music Director of the Janáček Philharmonic Ostrava, Maestro Sinaisky is also Conductor Emeritus of the BBC Philharmonic and the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra, and Honorary Conductor of the Malmö Symphony Orchestra. Most recently he held the position of Chief Conductor and Music Director of Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre.

Boris Godunov is performed in Russian with English subtitles, and is available to view, free of charge, via the San Francisco Opera website from 10.00 am (PST) on November 14th, expiring at 11.59 pm the following day.

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San Francisco Symphony & new Music Director present digital concert

Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen (center) with (clockwise) Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, Carol Reiley, Pekka Kuusisto, Esperanza Spalding, Julia Bullock, Claire Chase and Nicholas Britell –
courtesy San Francisco Symphony

The San Francisco Symphony – never known to lag behind in creativity – and its new Music Director, Esa-Pekka Salonen, present a digital concert, introducing eight newly-instated Collaborative Partners, and a specially commissioned work by Nico Muhly.

The hour-long performance, Throughline: San Francisco Symphony—From Hall to Home, takes its title from the work commissioned for this occasion – Throughline by American composer and collaborator Nico Muhly.

Forward-thinking Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen is engaged on a mission to make classical music relevant to the 21st century with the employment of digital and technological innovation – which makes him well placed to present this virtual performance. Formerly Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he now serves as Conductor Laureate, he is Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor for London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, having been instrumental in establishing the award-winning RE-RITE and Universe of Sound installations – giving audiences access to the orchestra through audio and video projection – and he was involved in the development of The Orchestra, an app for iPad, providing a unique insight into eight symphonic works.  Maestro Salonen is also the Artist in Association at the Finnish National Opera and Ballet, and the cofounder of the annual Baltic Sea Festival.

The main work of the performance, Nico Muhly’s Throughline, was written specifically for a digital medium. Conducted by the composer, it features all eight of the Symphony’s new Collaborative Partners – soprano Julia Bullock, violinist Pekka Kuusisto, pianist Nicholas Britell, flutist Claire Chase, electric guitarist Bryce Dessner, jazz vocalist Esperanza Spalding, and AI entrepreneur Carol Reiley – all filmed in different locations around the world.

Behind the scenes during filming of Nico Muhly’s Throughline, for “Throughline: San Francisco Symphony—From Hall to Home” (c) Kristen Loken

Nico Muhly has received commissions from institutions such as The Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Tallis Scholars and St John’s College, Cambridge, and among the artists with whom he has collaborated are Benjamin Millepied and Sufjan Stevens. His works for the concert stage include the 2017 opera, Marnie, premiered by English National Opera, and staged by the Metropolitan Opera the following year, and he has written the scores for the Broadway revival of The Glass Menagerie and the Academy Award-winning film, The Reader.

Behind the scenes during filming of Ellen Reid’s Fear / Release, for Throughline: San Francisco Symphony—From Hall to Home (c) Kim Huynh

This digital performance opens with Fear/Release by 2019 Pulitzer Prize-winner Ellen Reid – a work written for the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet. It’s followed by John Adams’ Shaking and Trembling, the first movement from one of his most frequently performed works, Shaker Loops, with musicians from the San Francisco Symphony led by Esa-Pekka Salonen. Kev Choice performs his own composition Movements, featuring AÏMA the DRMR – another SF Symphony commission which was recently released as part of the Symphony’s CURRENTS series – and, in a nod to tradition, there’s the Allegro con brio from Beethoven’s String Quartet No 11 in F minor, Opus 95.

Esa-Pekka Salonen leads members of the San Francisco Symphony in John Adams’ “Trembling and Shaking” – courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Throughline: San Francisco Symphony—From Hall to Home will broadcast locally on November 14 on KQED Public Television at 7.00 pm PST, and the performance will simultaneously stream worldwide at sfsymphony.org, where it will remain free to view for an indefinite period. The program will re-broadcast on NBC Bay Area on Monday, November 30 at 7pm PST.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Symphony program notes

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English National Ballet launches on-demand video platform

English National Ballet has announced that its dedicated on-demand video platform, ENB at Home, is now available to stream, giving audiences the opportunity to view a selection of the Company’s productions, with Ballet on Demand. Also available to view, by subscription, is BalletActive – a range of ballet-based classes.

Ballet on Demand currently features five productions – Akram Khan’s award-winning Giselle, Bournonville’s Romantic-era La Sylphide, the colourful and vibrant Le Corsaire, Akram Khan’s Dust – a moving reflection of the First World War – and a documentary, ENB in PARIS.

Giselle is choreographer Akram Khan’s highly acclaimed reimagination of the classic 1841 ballet in a staging which – according to the Mail on Sunday – “may well rank as a masterpiece of 21st century dance”. He places this story of love, betrayal and forgiveness in a community of migrant garment factory workers – of whom Giselle is one – who have lost their jobs following the closure of the factory. Giselle dies of grief when she discovers that the man she loves, Albrecht, is engaged to another. The Wilis and their Queen, Myrtha, are ghosts of factory workers seeking revenge for past wrongdoings against them. Once in their clutches, Giselle is briefly reunited with Albrecht, and grants him forgiveness, before she is spirited away by the Wilis.

Giselle is danced by Tamara Rojo, and Albrecht by James Streeter. The role of Myrtha is taken by Stina Quagebeur and Jeffrey Cirio is Hilarion. The score, by Vincenzo Lamagna, is adapted from the Adolphe Adam’s original, and orchestrated by Gavin Sutherland who leads the English National Ballet Philharmonic.

August Bournonville’s enchanting 1836 ballet La Sylphide is set in Scotland in the 1800s – a time during which the country was regarded as an exotic, faraway land. James, relaxing in an armchair on the morning of his wedding to Effie, has his reverie disturbed by the presence of an ethereal and alluring sylph. His pursuit of this enigmatic creature sets in train a series of events that leads to a trail of infatuation, betrayal and, finally, tragedy.

La Sylphide – one of the oldest ballets in existence – is a recreation of Bournonville’s original work, by Eva Kloborg, Frank Andersen and Anne Marie Vessel Schlüter. This performance, filmed at the Manchester Palace Theatre in 2017, during English National Ballet’s Autumn Tour that year, features Jurgita Dronina as the Sylph, Isaac Hernández as James and Anjuli Hudson as Effie.

Herman Severin Løvenskiold’s score – the oldest Romantic ballet score still being performed today – is played by the English National Ballet Philharmonic, led by Music Director, Gavin Sutherland.

Colourful, vibrant and exciting, with dazzling dance sequences, Le Corsaire was described as “hugely enjoyable” by the Telegraph, and “fabulously entertaining” by the Observer. Staged by Anna-Marie Holmes (after Marius Petipa and Konstantin Sergeyev), this production follows the libretto of the 1856 original by Jules-Henri de Saint-Georges and Joseph Mazilier, based on Lord Byron’s 1814 poem, The Corsair. The score retains the music of the original production – by Adolphe Adam, Cesare Pugni, Grand Duke Pyotr Georgievich of Oldenburg and Léo Delibes – with additional music from Riccardo Drigo, Ludwig Minkus, Yuly Gerber, Baron Boris Fitinhof-Schnell, Albert Zabel and J Zibin. The score is edited by Lars Payne and Gavin Sutherland – who leads the English National Ballet Philharmonic.

Le Corsair tells of the dashing pirate – danced by Vadim Muntagiro – and his quest to rescue his beloved Medora (Alina Cojocaru) – from the slave trader Lankendem (Dmitri Gruzdyev). The action moves from the high seas to a busy market place, to the pirate’s cave and subsequently the Pasha’s grand palace. Costumes and decor for this extravagant production are by Hollywood’s Bob Ringwood.

English National Ballet is the only English company with Le Corsaire in its repertoire, and it has presented the work internationally, to high acclaim, in capitals such as Paris and Tokyo.

In his 2014 reflection of the First World War, Akram Khan created Dust as part of the Lest We Forget programme of ballets, presented by English National Ballet to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of hostilities. The ballet covers three themes – the trenches and the men digging and living in them; the massive social shift towards the women at home, providing the huge workforce needed to keep the war effort going; and the relationship between the soldiers and these women – the latter being aware that their menfolk could be killed at the front, yet nevertheless helping to produce the weapons which would kill other husbands, fathers and sons.

The “pounding soundtrack” is by multi-award-winning British composer Jocelyn Pook. Choreography and direction are by Akram Khan, and Fabian Reimair, Tamara Rojo and James Streeter join the artists of English National Ballet in this production.

ENB in PARIS is a documentary, by Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, of the Company’s first engagement at the Paris Opera in 2016 – English National Ballet being the first UK company to perform on the stage of the Palais Garnier in 60 years. It’s an in-depth account of how the dancers prepared for their historic performances of Le Corsaire in the French capital.

Additional titles which will be available to view on demand will be announced soon. For more details, please visit the Ballet on Demand website.

Details of BalletActive can be found on this link.

Information sourced from:

English National Ballet programme notes

The Petipa Society

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San Francisco Opera is ON(line) with ‘Un Ballo in Maschera’

San Francisco Opera’s 2014 production of ‘Un Ballo in Maschera’
© Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera continues its season of online opera productions on November 7th, with a performance from the Company’s archives of Giuseppe Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera.

This dramatic tale of love, betrayal and revenge is Verdi’s interpretation of the assassination, in 1792, of King Gustav III of Sweden. The libretto is by Antonio Somma, whose text was apparently based on the libretto which French dramatist Eugène Scribe had written for Daniel Auber’s 1833 opera, Gustave III, ou Le bal masqué. In Verdi’s version, which premiered at the Teatro Apollo in Rome on February 17, 1859, the flirtatious King Gustav III is warned by both his trusted advisor, Count Anckarström, as well as a fortune-teller, of a plot against his life. The king doesn’t take either warning seriously, but when Anckarström discovers that the monarch is having an affair with his wife, things take a more serious turn.

Dolora Zajick as Madame Arvidson © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The role of King Gustav in this production by San Francisco Opera is sung by Mexican tenor, Ramón Vargas, who made his debut with the Company in two performances of this role in 1999. American soprano, Julianna Di Giacomo, sings the role of Amelia, on whom the king has set his eye. A graduate of San Francisco Opera’s Merola Program, Ms Di Giacomo makes her first appearance with the Company in this production.

Count Anckarström – Gustav’s jealous and impulsive adviser – is sung by Thomas Hampson, regarded as one of America’s great baritones, who has appeared in a number of productions by San Francisco Opera, and the fortune teller, Madame Arvidson, is sung by American mezzo-soprano, Dolora Zajick, renowned for her portrayal of strong Verdi characters, and who has also enjoyed a long and impressive career at San Francisco Opera.

Soprano Heidi Stober returns to the Company in the trouser role of Oscar, the page, and other members of the cast are baritone Efraín Solís as Silvano and Christian Van Horn and Scott Conner as conspirators Sam and Tom.

San Francisco Opera’s production of Un Ballo in Maschera – recorded at the War Memorial House in 2014 – is directed by Jose Maria Condemi, and sung in Italian with English supertitles. The San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus – Director Ian Robertson – are conducted by Nicola Luisotti.

The opera will be available to view free of charge on the San Francisco Opera website on November 7th, starting at 10.00 am (Pacific Time) and expiring at 11:59 pm the following day.

SFJAZZ – Fridays at Five in November

This month, SFJAZZ continues its highly successful Fridays at Five online performances – weekly pre-recorded concerts to connect jazz audiences to the music and musicians they love, and to help support the JAZZ Center and the artists who perform there, through these challenging times.

November 6th – José James Celebrates Bill Withers

In the first Fridays at Five session of November, SFJAZZ presents a concert recorded at the JAZZ Centre on June 15th, 2019, in which singer and songwriter José James paid tribute the American R&B singer-songwriter and musician, the great Bill Withers who passed away earlier this year. Performing some of Withers’ best loved songs which James featured on his Blue Note tribute release Lean On Me – numbers such as Ain’t No Sunshine, Grandma’s Hands, Use Me, Lovely Day, Just the Two of Us, and Who is He – James is backed by guitarist Marcus Machado, keyboardist Takeshi Ohbayashi, bassist Aneesa Strings, and drummer Aaron Steele.

November 13th – Sons of Kemet

Saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings is a key figure on the the London jazz scene, and he and his band, Sons of Kemet, are the stars of the November 13th Fridays at Five session. In a performance recorded during the SFJAZZ Summer Sessions on August 17th, 2019, the ensemble – featuring Hutchings, tuba player Theon Cross, and drummers Tom Skinner and Eddie Hick – give it all they’ve got in a presentation of their own style of music, blending the rhythms of Caribbean calypso and the soca sound of Trinidad and Tobago, with the New Orleans brass band tradition. Enjoy the infectious energy created between musicians and the audience on the dance floor!

November 20th – The Anat Cohen Tentet

Israeli musician Anat Cohen is regarded as the most acclaimed clarinetist of her generation, and she’s also an impressive tenor saxophonist. On December 3rd, 2017, she and her Tentet appeared at SFJAZZ to celebrate the West Coast debut of their latest project. This group, comprising some of the most exciting young players in New York, includes Maria Schneider Orchestra trumpeter Nadje Noordhuis, Brazilian pianist and accordionist Vitor Gonçalves, vibraphonist James Shipp, and guitarist Sheryl Bailey. The ensemble’s music director and arranger is Oded Lev-Ari, a protégé of the legendary trombonist and arranger Bob Brookmeyer. Featuring strongly in the Tentet’s songbook is Anat Cohen’s love of colourful and rhythmic Brazilian music.

November 27th – Gregory Porter 

Porter’s 2017 tribute to Nat “King” Cole, Nat “King” Cole & Me, was supported by a 2018 orchestral SFJAZZ performance at Davies Symphony Hall.

A frequent and long-standing guest of SFJAZZ, Gregory Porter is the star of the November 27th Fridays at Five session. In a performance recorded at the SFJAZZ Center on August 4th, 2019, this two-time GRAMMY winner and six-time nominee – who’s regarded as one of the most successful modern male jazz vocalists – presented a selection of songs from his repertoire, and from his latest Blue Note album, All Rise. In April this year, he released a single entitled Thank You, and performed at the live launch of NASA’s historic Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover Mission on July 30th. 

SFJAZZ Digital

SFJAZZ has just announced the launch of SFJAZZ Digital – which means that for just $5 per month, or $60 annually, in addition to the Fridays at Five sessions, you can access On-Demand Concerts, Live Streaming Concerts and Special Event Broadcasts. As a special offer, you’ll be given two months of free access if you join as a $60 Annual Digital Member. Visit the SFJAZZ website for more details.

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American Ballet Theatre – creativity in challenging times

Pushing the boundaries of creativity in challenging times, American Ballet Theatre presents Pas de Deux, a series of short documentaries created by one of the company’s soloists, celebrating the collaboration between dance and four very different aspects of creativity – music, food, film and art.

Devised by ABT Soloist Gabe Stone Shayer, this series features individual online conversations between Shayer and Grammy Award®-winning singer, songwriter and actor Alicia Keys (with a dance sequence directed and filmed by Pierce Jackson); Principal Dancer Isabella Boylston and master chef and restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson; Principal Dancer Cassandra Trenary with Kat Sullivan, Artist in Residence at New York City’s virtual and augmented reality lab, RLAB; and ABT Soloist Luciana Paris with visual artist Chloe Wise.

ABT Soloist Gabe Stone Shayer © Pierce Jackson

In these chats, the artists discuss aspects of their own speciality, each undergoing a fascinating learning curve about the other’s form of creativity, and unearthing much that neither side knew about the other’s art form.

For this docu-series, American Ballet Theatre partners with CHANEL – a fitting link, since fashion designer Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel was not only the very embodiment of innovation, but was fascinated by dance, and an avid supporter of the art, becoming a friend, designer and patron to the unique and colourful impresario Serge Diaghilev, founder of the Ballets Russes in Paris in 1909.

The idea for Pas de Deux, says Shayer “first hit me when thinking about how I could continue to create in quarantine. I wanted to highlight the innovation that is magnified by an artist feeling stifled. I’m obsessed with multimedia collaborations and felt this was the moment where we could explore the intersection of art and artists.”

Pas de Deux is produced Oscar®-winning Little Monster Films, again an appropriate choice, since the company, according to director Chai Vasarhelyi “is inspired by movement, ambition and creation”. A long-time fan of the ballet, Ms Vasarhelyi and her husband Jimmy Chin produced the film Free Solo, which won the 2019 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Pas de Deux is available to view – free of charge – on the American Ballet Theatre Youtube channel and on IGTV.

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