Opera Parallèle

Opera Parallèle's The Lighthouse

Opera-parallele-lighthouse-2016* Notes *
Opera Parallèle has opened yet another impressive production with Peter Maxwell Davies' chamber work The Lighthouse, which has a three performance run this weekend at Z Space in San Francisco. Scored for only about a dozen instrumentalists and three singers, the music is rich and vivid. The tense atmosphere of the narrative, which involves the disappearance of three lighthouse keepers, however, was not terribly dramatic.

The boredom, fear, and claustrophobia of being in a lighthouse without knowing when relief will come definitely comes through in the music. Tenor Thomas Glenn (Sandy, Officer 1), baritone Robert Orth (Blazes, Officer 2), and bass-baritone David Cushing (Arthur, Voice of the Cards, Officer 3) all are clearly talented, and are carefully characterized.

Orth's brightness was particularly macabre in "When I was a kid our street had a gang," and the banjo playing from David Tanenbaum here was also splendid.

Maestra Nicole Paiement kept everyone clear and together. It did not seem to matter at all that hornist Susan Vollmer played from offstage in the prologue and percussionists William Winant and Ben Paysen were separated from the rest of the orchestra.

Director Brian Staufenbiel employs a metal frame version of a light house. The scenery involves large panels of fabric manipulated by four dancers in hooded unitards, culminating in a fog scene in which ghosts appear to the lighthouse keepers. The layers of fabric swirl and obfuscate and make good use of the space.

The libretto, written by the composer, is spare, the piece is only 72 minutes long. While it is creepy, I did not find it as stirring as the music, the central conflict of two characters not getting along and being cooped up together is easy to relate to but isn't necessarily great theater.

The end also seemed to demystify the disappearance of the lighthouse keepers. Perhaps I am misunderstanding, as Davies has stated his opera "does not offer a solution to the mystery," but I could not help feeling that whatever did happen, it was obviously more mundane than supernatural.

* Tattling * 
The announcement to turn off cellular telephones and locate emergency exists before the performance sounded like something out of Disney's Haunted House.

Opera Parallèle's Champion

Champion-058_pub* Notes *
Champion: An Opera in Jazz had an impressive opening last night in San Francisco. As always, Opera Parallèle, which co-produced the 2013 work with SFJAZZ, gave an impeccable performance as far as playing, singing, and production values. Based on the life of bisexual boxer Emile Griffith, Terence Blanchard's music has much to recommend it, but it is hardly a perfect work and the libretto from Michael Cristofer can sound trite.

The piece shifts from different time periods, so there are three singers that play Emile Griffith, often even at the same time as the character remembers his past. All of the singers are very compelling. Bass Arthur Woodley is Griffith as an elderly man suffering from dementia, his voice is warm and rich, and his performance is sympathetic and haunting. Bass-baritone Kenneth Kellogg as Griffith in his prime has a lighter sound, but is no less convincing. Sharing the role of Little Emile with Evan Holloway, Moses Abrahamson sounded utterly angelic.

Everyone else was fantastic as well, including the twelve person chorus that played paraders, reporters, and boxing fans. Standouts included Robert Orth as Emile's trainer Howie Albert and Karen Slack as his mother Emelda Griffith. The way both of these singers wholly embodied their characters was completely convincing.

Maestra Nicole Paiement seamlessly conducted a small orchestra of twenty-six and a jazz trio. The music has some wonderful percussion, and the upbeat ensembles were particularly good, including a trio from Kellogg, Slack and Orth in Act I. The drama is weirdly static perhaps because we are seeing much of the action through a main character that clearly has brain disease. The pacing could be sluggish, making the opera, which is only 145 minutes of music, feel long, perhaps because some of the words did not sit well with the vocal lines.

Director Brian Staufenbiel has created a characteristically stylish production, using layered platforms and screens to dazzling effect. The video projections took us through the ten scenes without being overwhelming, cheesy, or confusing.

* Tattling * 
There was a small child (apparently a student of percussion) in the audience two rows ahead of me (Row H Seat 18 or thereabouts) that managed to be quiet the entire opera.

Opera Parallèle's Christopher Pratorius Q&A

AG-rehearsal_Oct13My Q&A with composer Christopher Pratorius about his children's opera Amazing Grace commissioned by Opera Parallèle is on KQED Arts.

4th and 5th grade students of St. Martin de Porres Catholic School in Oakland will perform the opera on November 12 at 6pm and November 14 at 11am and 1pm. Performances are free and take place at the African American Art & Culture Complex's Buriel Clay Theater (762 Fulton Street) in San Francisco.

Opera Parallèle's Heart of Darkness

Heart-of-darkness-opera-parallele* Notes *
Opera Parallèle is holding the first North American performances of Tarik O'Regan's Heart of Darkness at Z Space in San Francisco this weekend. The challenge of taking a well-known text must be great. Tom Philips condensed Conrad's novella into a spare libretto. The ninety minute work is relentless, there is no intermission, but in the end it dissolves into silence. The scene about wanting rivets was amusing. The most famous lines of the book were handled gracefully.

Opera Parallèle made a compelling case for this chamber opera. Maestra Nicole Paiement conducted the fourteen musicians of the orchestra with verve.

The cast is uniformly strong. It was striking to hear soprano Shawnette Sulker sing the River Woman. She can sound sweet and bird-like, but here she showed grit and passion. Tenor Thomas Glenn was a vivid Harlequin. Baritone Aleksey Bogdanov's low notes as the Doctor and the Boilermaker were forceful yet humorous. Tenor Michael Belle sounded warm as the Chief Accountant and the Helmsman. Bass-baritone Philip Skinner seemed rumbling and ancient as Kurtz, clearly conveying illness and madness. Tenor Isaiah Bell was a youthful Marlow, his voice is bright and he sings with ease.

Director Brian Staufenbiel uses the compact space to fine effect. Audience members surrounding the stage wore light-colored ponchos and held tusks created by Jon Altemus. Illustrations by Matt Kish were projected in the background and on the floor. The ink on watercolor paper images are bold, animating them could be dizzying, though this worked nicely when the action took place on the river.

* Tattling * 
One watch alarm was noted at 3pm during Saturday's matinée. One person whispered loudly during the instrumental threnody.

Opera Parallèle's Dead Man Walking

Opera-parallele-dead-man-walking-2015* Notes *
Opera Parallèle opened the 2015 season with a chamber version of Dead Man Walking at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco last night. Opera Parallèle again makes a compelling case for contemporary works, and the appeal of Jake Heggie's first opera is obvious. Artistic Director Nicole Paiement conducted a lush and robust sounding small orchestra. Director Brian Staufenbiel's production is elegant and effective. The main props are a dozen floating rectangular screens, each segmented into smaller shapes made up of metal bars. The use of video projection in the background is tasteful, as is having two supernumeraries representing the murdered teenagers on stage for most of the opera.

The cast is impeccable. Catherine Cook did an amazing job singing Mrs. De Rocher, the mother of the title character. Her appearance at the pardon board in Act I Scene 7 was one of the strongest moments of the performance. The following scene with the parents of the victims was also ravishing. Robert Orth (Owen Hart), Kristin Clayton (Kitty Hart), Joseph Meyers (Howard Boucher), and Michelle Rice (Jade Boucher) are convincing. Talise Trevigne is an outstanding Sister Rose, her voice is beautifully lucid. Michael Mayes has a pretty voice, but his physicality works well for Joseph De Rocher. Jennifer Rivera sounded pure and lovely as Sister Helen.

* Tattling * 
Everyone around me in the Center Orchestra section was absolutely quiet and attentive.

My Head is Full of Colors Premiere

MyheadisfullofcolorsOpera Parallèle presents the world premiere of My Head is Full of Colors, a children's opera composed by Chris Pratorius with libretto by Nicole Paiement. The free performance will be held during National Opera Week, on Saturday, November 1, at 11 am in the Koret Auditorium of the San Francisco Main Library, 100 Larkin Street. The production features 4th grade students from Creative Arts Charter School performing with soprano Carolyn Bacon and baritone Sergey Khalikulov. Laura Anderson is the stage director, costumes are designed by Elly Jessop; the singers and small instrumental ensemble will be conducted by OP Intern Conductor William Long.

Production Web Site | San Francisco Public Library

Opera Parallèle's 2015 Season

0274-JakeHeggie-131024Opera Parallèle presents Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts from February 20 to 22, 2015. The cast features Jennifer Rivera (Sister Helen Prejean), Michael Mayes (Joe DeRocher), Catherine Cook (Mrs. DeRocher), Talise Trevigne (Sister Rose), and Robert Orth (Owen Hart). Other singers in the production include Kristin Clayton, Michelle Rice, Joseph Mayers, Mark Hernandez, Jonathan Smucker, and members of the San Francisco Girls Chorus.

Additionally, Tarik O'Regan's Heart of Darkness has a U.S. premiere at Z Space in San Francisco from May 1 to 3, 2015. The cast will include Isaiah Bell (Marlow), Matthew Stump (Kurtz), Jonathan Blalock (Manager/Secretary), Thomas Glenn (Accountant/Helmsman), Daniel Cilli (Thames Captain), Crystal Kim (Fiancée), Shawnette Sulker (River Woman), Jonathan Boyd (Harlequin) and John Bischoff (Doctor/Bowlermaker).

Opera Parallèle's Les mamelles de Tirésias

Mamelle2837* Notes *
Opera Parallèle has put together a double bill of Mahagonny Songspiel with Les mamelles de Tirésias at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Opera Parallèle has embedded the Poulenc between the second and third parts of the Weill. Director Brian Staufenbiel never lacks for ideas and connects the two pieces by setting them in an apocalyptic future, which looks distinctly like Steampunks at Burning Man. The main set piece is a boat on wheels (pictured above, photograph by Steve DiBartolomeo) that is pulled around the stage by the singers. The action includes quite a lot of choreography, especially for the San Francisco Girls Chorus, the OP Chorus, and the Resound Ensemble. The effect of all these elements together is disorienting and utterly surreal.

For opening performance on Friday, Artistic Director Nicole Paiement conducted the ensemble with characteristic poise. The orchestra sounded incredibly together and clean. The singing was exquisite. Aleksey Bogdanov, Hadleigh Adams, Daniel Cilli, and Thomas Glenn all made fine contributions. Gabriel Preisser was amusing as Le Mari in the Poulenc, his voice is pretty. Renée Rapier sang Betty in the Weill, and was haunting in "Alabama Song" with Rachel Schutz (Jessie). Schutz was most impressive as Tirésias/La cartomancienne. Her voice is so bright and elegant.

* Tattling * 
The audience members were fairly quiet, though I did notice that the woman in Row E Seat 103 fussed with her purse a few times and also spoke to her neighbor about the cookware that appeared on stage.

Opera Parallèle's 2014 Season

Op-2014Opera Parallèle presents Francis Poulenc's Les mamelles de Tirésias and Kurt Weill's Mahagonny Songspiel at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts from April 25 to 27, 2014. Baritone Gabriel Preisser performs Bobby in Mahagonny Songspiel and Le mari in Les mamelles de Tirésias; soprano Rachel Schutz is Jessie and Tirésias/La cartomacienne; tenor Thomas Glenn is Charlie and Lacouf/Le journaliste/Le fils; Daniel Cilli is Billy and Le directeur/Presto; mezzo soprano Renée Rapier is Bessie and La marchande de journaux; Matthew Lovell is Jimmy and Le messieur barbu.

Opera Parallèle's Trouble in Tahiti

Trouble1772* Notes *
This weekend, Opera Parallèle is performing Leonard Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti (Lisa Chavez and Eugene Brancoveanu pictured right; photograph by Steve DiBartolomeo) at Z Space in San Francisco. The performances open with Samuel Barber's ten-minute Hand of Bridge and simply flow into the Bernstein. Director Brian Staufenbiel's production makes the most of limited space by employing a quartered turn-table set and three screens for video projection. The scenes included a kitchen, an office, a theater, and a gym; each furnished beautifully. The images made a suitable backdrop, amusing rather than overwhelming.

For Friday's opening performance, Maestra Nicole Paiement held the small orchestra together, and the sound was clean. The singing was fine, the intimate venue made it easy to hear everyone. Krista Wigle, Andres Ramirez, and Randall Bunnell sang as The Trio with much energy. Lisa Chavez (Dinah) has a distinctive mezzo-soprano, a bit steely and very strong. As Sam, Eugene Brancoveanu sang with his usual warmth and vim. The acting went smoothly, and taken together the performance certainly did delight.

* Tattling * 
The audience was ideal. No one spoke, there were no electronic devices heard, and there did not seem to be any latecomers.

In the lobby, after the performance, we were treated to a reprise of Hand of Bridge, the singers precariously perched above the patrons.

Opera Parallèle's Ainadamar Preview

Ainadamar-2013-opera-parallele* Notes *
A sneak preview of Opera Parallèle's next production, Ainadamar, was held at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music last month. Conductor Nicole Paiement took us through several musical examples with pianist Keisuke Nakogoshi and half a dozen singers. Lisa Chavez (pictured left as Federico García Lorca, photograph by Steve Di Bartolomeo), Marnie Breckenridge (Margarita Xirgu), and Maya Kherani (Nuria) sang various selections and a trio of singers from the women's chorus also participated. Osvaldo Golijov's music is textured and percussive.

Director Brian Staufenbiel discussed the set design, which sounds like Opera Parallèle's most ambitious to date and involves a stage divided into two layers. The staging includes the flamenca La Tania and her troupe, and they danced for us, accompanied by Nakogoshi. I, for one, am quite disappointed that I cannot make it to any of the three performances. Opera Parallele's Ainadamar will be presented starting Friday, February 15 until Sunday, February 17 at the Novellus Theatre, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Opera Parallèle's 2012-2013 Season

Ainadamar-2013Ensemble Parallèle has formally changed its name to Opera Parallèle. The opera company presents the Bay Area premiere of Osvaldo Golijov's Ainadamar on February 15, 16 and 17, 2013 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Marnie Breckenridge will sing Margarita Xirgu and Lisa Chavez stars as Federico García Lorca (both pictured left, photograph by Steve DiBartolomeo). On April 26, 27 and 28, Opera Parallèle presents a re-orchestration of Leonard Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti in a double bill with Samuel Barber's A Hand of Bridge at ZSpace. The season closes on June 7, 2013 at San Francisco Conservatory of Music, when the company presents a public workshop reading of the newly commissioned Dante De Silva's Gesualdo, Prince of Madness.

Ensemble Parallèle's The Great Gatsby

Marco Pannucio, Susannah Biller, Julienne Walker, Jason Detwiler

* Notes *
A chamber version of John Harbison's The Great Gatsby (Act II, Scene 3 with Marco Pannucio, Susannah Biller, Julienne Walker, Jason Detwiler, and Daniel Snyder pictured right; photograph by Steve DiBartolomeo) from Ensemble Parallèle opened last night at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. The ambitious reorchestration was undertaken by composer Jacques Desjardins, using 30 musicians instead of 80, and will be presented at the Aspen Music Festival this August. The opera has been cut down to 2 hours and 10 minutes, but does not seem rushed or undescriptive.

The music is rather difficult, and conductor Nicole Paiement had kept everyone together, at least for the most part. Director Brian Staufenbiel put forth a bold production, employing much videography and period dance. The many scene changes were smooth, and there were only a few odd moments, notably between Act I Scenes 1 and 2, and in Act II Scenes 5 and 6. One can appreciate how challenging it is to put forth this familiar story that has been visually represented in more than one film. Matthew Antaky's set is stylish, but at times the singers seemed rather far upstage, and this effected how well they could be heard.

The cast is strong, featuring those who can both act and sing. The diction was all perfectly comprehensible. Mark Robinson and Carrie Zhang had some of the simpler, lyrical music as Radio/Band and Tango Singers. Erin Neff and Bojan Knežević made fine contributions as Myrtle and George Wilson. Knežević was terrifying yet sympathetic when Myrtle is killed. Julienne Walker (Jordan Baker) was a good foil for Susannah Biller (Daisy Buchanan), physically and vocally. Jason Dewiler made for a likeable Nick Carraway, ever patient as he observed. Daniel Snyder (Tom Buchanan) sounded a bit choked in the first half of the opera, but seemed in better voice after the intermission. In the title role, Marco Pannucio gave a heartfelt, but somewhat strained, performance. Susannah Biller sparkled as Daisy Buchanan, her bright sound had a certain lovely ease to it.

* Tattling * 
The woman in Row E Seat 106 arrived only a few minutes before curtain, and had to step over us to leave the hall after the opera's second scene. She returned between Act I Scenes 3 and 4, squeezing by and speaking to her date during the orchestral interlude.

Some men behind Row J of the Orchestra Right section talked loudly during Gatsby's final aria, and someone had to ask them to be quiet.

Ensemble Parallèle's Great Gatsby Rehearsal


* Notes *
Ensemble Parallèle held an open rehearsal of The Great Gatsby (Marco Panuccio as Jay Gatsby and Susannah Biller as Daisy Buchanan pictured left, photograph by Steve di Bartolomeo) at the Kanbar Performing Arts Center in San Francisco yesterday. The opera opens next Friday, and though the rehearsal process is always chaotic, the cast and crew have made great progress thus far. We heard and watched Act II, Scene 4; Act I, Scene 4; Act I, Scene 3; and Act II, Scene 2. Keisuke Nakogoshi accompanied the singers on piano. The chorus and many of the principal singers were present. Director Brian Staufenbiel worked out the staging and Maestra Nicole Paiement made sure the singers were on beat. As Staufenbiel focused on certain specifics, Paiement would address us, revealing that one of her favorite parts of the opera is when Gatsby and Nick meet in Act I, Scene 3.

After the rehearsal Susannah Biller, Jason Detwiler (Nick Carraway), Marco Panuccio, Daniel Snyder (Tom Buchannan), Julienne Walker (Jordan Baker), Jacques Desjardins, Staufenbiel, and Paiement answered questions about working on this opera. The work is cut, runs 2 hours and 10 minutes, and Paiement takes speedy tempi for the dialogue. All the cuts had to be approved by the composer, John Harbison.

* Tattling *
Some members of the audience whispered throughout, and a few cellular phones were heard.

Ensemble Parallèle's Great Gatsby Preview


* Notes *
A sneak preview of Ensemble Parallèle's next production, The Great Gatsby, was held at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music last week. Conductor Nicole Paiement took us through several musical examples with pianist Keisuke Nakogoshi and six of the cast members. Susannah Biller (pictured above as Daisy Buchanan, photograph by Rapt), Jason Detwiler (Nick Carraway), Marco Panuccio (Jay Gatsby), Erin Neff (Myrtle Wilson), Daniel Snyder (Tom Buchannan), and Julienne Walker (Jordan Baker) looked and sounded utterly comfortable, despite the fact that rehearsals had only started the day before.

Jacques Desjardins, who has re-orchestrated John Harbison's work for chamber orchestra, was on hand to speak about the challenges of this undertaking. The number of musicians has been taken from 120 down to 30. The music is brass heavy, and Desjardins has had to use woodwinds to make up for this in the chamber version. The harp part also presented an interesting problem, as the sound of the instrument is so particular.

Director Brian Staufenbiel also gave us a glimpse of the set design and the concepts behind some of the stage elements. His style seems to be stylized rather than descriptive. One does look forward to seeing and hearing the piece. Three performances are presented between Friday, February 10 to Sunday, February 12 at the Novellus Theatre, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

* Tattling *
There was light talking and some electronic noise.