San Francisco Opera opens Centennial Season with Adams’ ‘Antony and Cleopatra’

Amina Edris (center) in John Adams’ ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera opens its Centennial Season with John Adams’ spectacular new work, Antony and Cleopatra. Starring in the title roles are bass-baritone Gerald Finley and soprano Amina Edris, joined by tenor Paul Appleby as Octavius Caesar, bass-baritone Alfred Walker as Antony’s confidante Enobarbus and mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong as Octavia, Caesar’s sister and Antony’s wife. Music Director Eun Sun Kim leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus in this production which is directed by Elkhanah Pulitzer.

The libretto for Antony and Cleopatra has been written by John Adams from Shakespeare, with supplementary passages from Plutarch, Virgil and other classical texts, in consultation with Elkhanah Pulitzer and Dramaturg Lucia Scheckner. The opera was co-commissioned for San Francisco Opera’s Centennial and co-produced with the Liceu Opera Barcelona, the Teatro Massimo Palermo, and the Metropolitan Opera New York. It tells of the torrid romance between the Roman general, Antony, and the Egyptian queen, Cleopatra, as a result of which alliances and marriages are torn apart, a brutal war ensues and ultimately a new leader for Rome emerges.

Amina Edris and Gerald Finley in John Adams’ ‘Antony and Cleopatra’
© Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Multi-award-winning John Adams – a long-time resident of the Bay Area – has been composing for more than three decades, creating works which have become the most performed of all contemporary music. He is best known for his operas The Death of Klinghoffer (which he also conducted), Doctor Atomic, Nixon in China and Girls of the Golden West. Other works include El Niño (a Nativity oratorio), The Gospel According to the Other Mary (a Passion oratorio), Short Ride in a Fast Machine and The Dharma at Big Sur. Also a conductor, John Adams has led some of the world’s major orchestras including the Concertgebouw Orchestra, Berliner Philharmoniker, Cleveland Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, Wiener Symphoniker, BBC Symphony and the Orchestra of Santa Cecilia.

Amina Edris in John Adams’ ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Cairo-born Amina Edris is a graduate of the Merola Opera Program, subsequently becoming an Adler Fellow at San Francisco Opera. Roles in which she has appeared for the Company include Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, Frasquita in Bizet’s Carmen, Annina in Verdi’s La Traviata and Countess Ceprano in Verdi’s Rigoletto. Highlights of Amina’s 22/23 season include a return to the Orchestre de chambre de Paris for a performance of Mozart’s Requiem, a role debut in Ravel’s Shéhérazade with the Stuttgart Philharmoniker, a Prague debut in a gala concert with Pene Pati, the title role in Massenet’s Manon in a house debut at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona and a return to the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées as Musetta in Puccini’s La bohème.

Gerald Finley as Antony and Brenton Ryan as Eros © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The role of Antony, the Roman general and triumvir, is taken by Canadian Bass-baritone Gerald Finley, of whom the New York Times writes: “Mr. Finley has long been recognized as a recitalist of rare versatility, a concert artist of the first rank and an opera singer of distinction in a broad repertory”. For San Francisco Opera, he sang the role of J Robert Oppenheimer in John Adams’ Doctor Atomic, which won a Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording in 2012. Widely acclaimed for his performances, he has appeared in major opera and concert venues, and this season he will appear as Count Almaviva in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro at the Opera National de Paris, Wolfram von Eschenbach in Wagner’s Tannhäuser at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and Der Holländer in Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer at the Staatsoper Unter Linden in Berlin.

Paul Appleby as Caesar (center) and members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus in an early rehearsal of John Adams’ ‘Antony and Cleopatra’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

American tenor Paul Appleby is the young Caesar, Octavius. He made his debut at San Francisco Opera in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, and created the role of Joe Cannon in the Company’s 2017 premiere of John Adams’ Girls of the Golden West. He is a frequent guest artist at the Metropolitan Opera – where he has sung roles such as Hylas in Berlioz’s Les Troyens, Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni, Belmonte in Die Entführung aus dem Serail and the role of Brian in the North American premiere of Nico Muhly’s Two Boys. Among other roles, Mr Appleby has appeared as Tom Rakewell in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress at Oper Frankfurt, Jonathan in Handel’s Saul and as Bénédict in Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict at Glyndebourne Festival Opera.

Amina Edris as Cleopatra and Hadleigh Adams as Agrippa
© Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The cast also includes Brenton Ryan as Eros, Taylor Raven as Charmian, Hadleigh Adams as Agrippa, Patrick Blackwell as Maecena, Gabrielle Beteag as Iras, Timothy Murry as Scarus and Philip Skinner as Lepidus.

Elkhanah Pulitzer leads a production team of Tony Award-winning set designer and MacArthur Fellow Mimi Lien, costume designer Constance Hoffman, lighting designer David Finn, projection designer Bill Morrison and sound designer Mark Grey.

Amina Edris and Gerald Finley in John Adams’ ‘Antony and Cleopatra’
Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The San Francisco Opera Orchestra, soloists and Chorus (director John Keene) are led by Music Director Eun Sun Kim in this production of John Adams’ Antony and Cleopatra which is sung in English with English supertitles. It runs at the War Memorial Opera House between September 10th and October 5th.

For more information and for tickets, visit the San Francisco Opera website.

The good news for anyone who isn’t based in the Bay Area or who cannot make it to the War Memorial Opera House, is that the performance on Sunday, September 18th will be live-streamed at 2.00 pm (Pacific Time). Tickets to watch this online performance cost $27.50, and a replay will be available for 48 hours, from September 19th, at 10.00 am. Tickets are available via this link.

San Francisco Opera also invites Bay Area residents to join them for the traditional Opera in the Park performance this Sunday, September 11th. Pack a picnic and head for the Robin Williams Meadow at Golden Gate Park where you’ll be richly entertained in an afternoon of performances by stars from this fall’s season. Entrance is free, and the concert starts at 1.30 pm. Further information is available on the San Francisco Opera website.

Information sourced from San Francisco Opera program notes

See also:

Amina Edris

Gerald Finley

Paul Appleby

Alfred Walker

Elizabeth DeShong

Elkhanah Pulitzer

Eun Sun Kim

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