SF Opera Lab

SF Opera at the Uptown

SFOperaLabPopUp2016_2_by Kristen LokenSan Francisco Opera is having its first pop-up (pictured left, photograph by Kristen Loken/San Francisco Opera) in the East Bay at the Uptown Nightclub in Oakland. Entitled "Hands-on Opera," there will be lots of audience interaction at this event on Thursday March 23, 2017 at 7:30pm.

Curated by Adler stage director Aria Umezawa, the evening will feature sopranos Sarah Cambidge and Amina Edris; tenors Amitai Pati and Kyle van Schoonhoven; baritone Andrew G. Manea; bass-baritone Brad Walker; bass Anthony Reed; and pianists Jennifer Szeto and Ronny Michael Greenberg. Tickets are 25 dollars, available at Event Brite or at the door.

Official Site | Uptown Nightclub | Tickets


Anna Caterina Antonacci at SF Opera Lab

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Last night the arresting soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci (pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera) gave the first of three performances of songs by Berlioz, Debussy, and Poulenc paired with a piano version La Voix Humane at SF Opera Lab. Antonacci gave a compelling renditions of the various French songs, all the more impressive since it was only her voice and the spare accompaniment of Donald Sulzen's piano.

Part of her appeal is certainly her voice, which is far from your garden variety clean, pure soprano, and in fact Antonacci started her career singing mezzo roles, especially Rossini, which doesn't seem particularly well suited to her sensual sound. She did great with Berlioz's "La mort d'Ophélie", very emotionally on point and haunting. Likewise her "Le tombeau des Naïades" from Debussy's Chansons de Bilitis was particularly strong.

37A0382Poulenc's 1958 La Voix humane is essentially a monologue of a suicidal woman on the telephone with her former lover. Its success as a piece of drama rests heavily on the the one singer, and Antonacci delivered, she is an incredible actress and it was hard to look away.

Simple and concise, the 40 minutes flew by, and we experience everything from the petty annoyances of being on a party line to the utter depths of despair of being abandoned and unloved.

The plain, stripped down staging of a simple rain drop covered window with a view of Paris with only a table, chair, and a few pillows was perfect and matched the simplicity of the opera itself.

Antonacci's costume was a bit odd, it looked like a 70s floral house dress, with panels that opened in the front and a cut-out in the back. I was also confused by (though also enjoyed) her gown for the songs, which looked to be a long grey leotard-inspired tunic whose sleeves covered her hands and had the saddest tulle tutu-like skirt.

Tattling *
Many audience members were mostly quiet, though a few people had to exit during the music.


Ted Hearne's The Source at SF Opera Lab

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Yesterday SF Opera Lab opened a second season with Ted Hearne's disturbing oratorio The Source. The 2012 piece concerns Chelsea Manning's disclosure to WikiLeaks of classified material about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unconventionally staged with the four singers dispersed in the audience (Isaiah Robinson pictured left, photograph by Stefan Cohen) and with enormous video projections on each side, the experience was completely immersive.

Mark Doten's libretto uses primary source texts, tweets from Manning and Adrian Lamo (the former hacker that ultimately turned Manning in), chat logs from Manning and Lamo, interview questions posed to Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange, and random cultural artifacts from the time period ranging from an interview of Steven Hawking to Big Boi's "Shutterbugg." The collection is unsettling, and all the more so because the repetitive vocals are highly processed by Philip White in real time.

The music is often loud and cacophonous, and the ensemble hidden above, behind one of the video screens, consisted of what amounts to a string trio plus keyboard, guitar, bass, and drums. The playing and singing seemed to come off tightly together, most impressive given the lack of conductor. It wasn't at all clear to me how this was accomplished.

Most of the videos used were of people's faces as they watched the leaks, gleaned from footage of nearly 100 people taken by director Daniel Fish and production designer Jim Findlay. It is all very unsettling. When we finally see the gunsight footage of the July 12, 2007 Baghdad airstrike, known as "Collateral Murder," we understand all too well what these people have been reacting to and experience it for ourselves. The dead silence at the end lasted an uncomfortable and imposing amount of time.

Tattling *
Many audience members (I saw at least five at one time) fell asleep despite the volume of the music and fact that they may have been next to one of the vocalists. This was all the more obvious because the two halves of the audience faced one another.


SF Opera's Les Triplettes de Belleville

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SF Opera Lab hosted a cine-concert version of Les Triplettes de Belleville in mid-April. The 2003 animated film was projected on the south wall of the Atrium Theater as composer-conductor Benoît Charest not only lead seven instrumentalists and the chanteuse Doriane Faberg, but also played guitar.

The last evening of the run, on April 23, was completely immersive and charming. The piece has little dialogue and it is easy to take in the performers and the film at the same time without losing the thread of the narrative.

While the piece has many traditional instruments such as bass, saxophone, and such, it also requires playing a bicycle and newspaper.

Tattling *
Even the smallest children at the concert were utterly silent during the movie. This was a much different experience than seeing films with SF Symphony playing, perhaps because of the intimacy of the venue.


SF Opera's Svadba-Wedding

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SF Opera Lab had its first new production premiere last night with Svadba-Wedding last night. The a cappella opera for six female voices by Serbian Canadian composer Ana Sokolović is the perfect scale for the Atrium Theater and director Michael Cavanagh's made use of the whole space.

Sokolović's opera is pretty without being cloying, the Balkan rhythms employed hold much interest. This is much closer to being avant-garde than most of the world premieres we've heard at the War Memorial in the last decade. There were moments when the music reminded me of Kitka, but Sokolović has a very charming and peculiar point of view. Often there is much humor in the onomatopoeic sounds the singers produce. The piece is short, a mere 60 minutes, but has a timelessness to it, and not at all in a bad way.

There are many instruments used by the singers including metal drinking cups with chains and spoons; tom-tom drum; gong; rainsticks, and ocarinas (ancient wind instruments). The voices have a haunting quality, there seemed to be three sopranos and three mezzo-sopranos. The singing was clear and had an immediacy in the small room.

Cavanagh's staging uses a central round platform and five other littler platforms all around the room. The audience is seated at round tables, much like a wedding reception.

Tattling *
It was hard for the audience members to talk much, given how immersive the performance was, and how the singers basically surrounded us at different moments.

After the performance was an actual reception, complete with croquembouche, champagne, and a DJ.


Kentridge's Winterreise

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SF Opera Lab began with visual artist William Kentridge's production of Winterreise last weekend. His beautiful meditations on Schubert's Lieder are deeply immersive and the incredible performers, baritone Matthias Goerne and pianist Markus Hinterhäuser though very talented, seemed almost incidental to the work.

The effect Kentridge gets with mostly black and white projections on a surface layered with paper is compelling, so much so that it was hard for me to focus in on the music. The landscapes and figures dancing or walking across dictionary pages completely held my attention for the 80 minute performance, which seemed much shorter to me.

Goerne has an absolutely gorgeous voice, vital and strong, but I was glad I had heard him before, because in this it might have been lost on me. The sound in the Taube Atrium Theater seemed properly adjusted, some of the weird echoey effects noticed at Daniel Okulitch's Schwabacher were not in evidence.

Tattling *
The audience was quiet. We were asked to look at our programs before the performance began and the lights were kept off, so browsing the translations was not a true option.

The much-touted cup holders were not in use, as we were asked to not bring beverages into the hall for this performance.


Atrium Theater's Inaugural Event

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SF Opera Lab held the first event at the new Taube Atrium Theater last night. The evening was open to certain San Francisco Opera donors but involved having to call the box office to reserve tickets, as the space only has 299 seats.

The theater is part of the Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera, which consolidates SF Opera's operations on the fourth floor and basement of the Veterans Building. The space, which originally housed SFMOMA, includes an education studio that can also be used as a rehearsal venue, a costume studio, the San Francisco Opera Archive, exhibition galleries, and administrative offices. The opera moved in two weeks ago, though not everything is quite done, there has been painting and such in the interim.

The performance ended up being a salon curated by members of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, part of SF Opera Lab's ChamberWORKS series. The intimate setting had a casual feel, performers addressed the audience and introduced many of the pieces. There was no printed program, instead titles were projected over digital wallpapers from the Cooper Hewitt.

The performance started with cellist Thalia Moore playing Vivaldi's Sonata No. 6 in B flat major, RV 46 accompanied by Adler Fellow Ronny Michael Greenberg on harpsichord who were joined by flutist Stephanie McNab, percussionist Rick Kvistad, and mezzo-soprano Adler Zanda Švēde, who sang a setting of ten Shakespeare sonnets to music by Pauls Miervaldis Dambis. Dambis seems to have a penchant for the Renaissance, hence the harpsichord rather than the piano.

Greenberg did shift to playing piano, and one of the highlights of the evening was certainly Robert Muczynski's Sonata for Flute and Piano Op. 14. Played with verve by Stephanie McNab, Greenberg's playing was crisp and supportive. We also got to hear a piece of Kvistad's called "Blues for Wilsey," in which the percussionist plays a drum set along with the other musicians playing their respective instruments. Greenberg played piano in this and McNab played both flute and piccolo.

The performance was capped by the Habanera and Seguidilla from Bizet's Carmen, accompaniment arranged for vibes, cello, flute, and piano by Peter Grunberg. Švēde is brilliant, getting the emotional import of all the words through her voice. She made her entrance through the audience, and it was a testament to how great the Meyer Sound system is, because it sounded nicely balanced -- not too loud or dry.

* Tattling *
The audience was extremely focused and quiet. It was fun hearing the musicians speak, especially Kvistad, who joked the more he studied music, the less notes he was allowed to play, especially at the opera, where he must be the highest paid musician per note.

The theater can get rather warm, and the controls to the AC system have apparently not been handed over to the opera yet, as we learned from the Q&A with the performers and Elkhanah Pulitzer, Director of Programming for the SF Opera Lab (pictured above). Also, one of the lenses of the projection system needs replacement, most of the images were pretty blurry.