Colleen Quen Interview

Colleen-quen-ncco-1-2021Couturière Colleen Quen (pictured left with her work, photograph by David Law) has collaborated with New Century Chamber Orchestra (NCCO) on a multimedia piece that debuts on Thursday, May 27 at 12pm.

The work opens NCCO's new film venture entitled the Resonance Series, which explores Bay Area artists from different disciplines alongside particular chamber music pieces.

Quen created a mixed media sculpture inspired by a performance of Debussy's Danse sacrée et Danse profane for harp and strings. Meredith Clark is the harp soloist and the ensemble includes violinists Iris Stone and Karen Shinozaki Sor; violist Elizabeth Prior; cellist Michelle Djokic; and bassist Anthony Manzo.

The delightful and effusive Quen spoke to me on the phone last week from her atelier in San Francisco.

How did you get involved with this project with New Century Chamber Orchestra?
They reached out to me to ask if I was interested in collaborating with the orchestra. One of the violinists, Iris Stone, has been a client of mine. I like to keep unfolding as an artist, so this was a perfect opportunity.

Colleen-quen-ncco-2-2021Tell me about your inspiration for the multimedia sculpture and how it came together.
(Executive Director) Richard Lonsdorf chose the Debussy for me. He just knew it was right for me, it is romantic and French, both of which I love. I create through paper first, and for this I put together the 90-piece sculptural couture creation in about 2 days. I went into the composer's world, cutting out shapes spontaneously. It was very meditative, translating the notes onto the dress form.

For the filming, I painted the paper pattern as the musicians played Danse sacrée et Danse profane. It felt like the musicians were wrapping their love around me and it was very healing. We've all been starved for togetherness in this pandemic, I feel.

How have you coped with the pandemic?
Covid has made an impact on me. I felt so suppressed as an artist, since my medium is human beings. I didn't design for about 6 months and all of my projects stopped, though I have continued teaching through Zoom. NCCO awakened me, the collaboration was a gift that I'm so grateful for.

I'm a fourth generation Chinese American from the Bay Area, so I was caught off-guard by the upsurge of hate crimes against Asians. Covid has made us so fearful of each other and all the more so for our Asian elders.

Based on your Instagram it looks like you've spent a lot of time hanging out with your super cute French bulldog Libai. Is he named after the poet?
Yes! My Frenchie has a Chinese name, it's true.


Washington National Opera's 2021-2022 Season

Washington-national-operaNovember 6–14 2021: Come Home: A Celebration of Return (concert)
March 5–25 2022: Written in Stone
March 12–26 2022: Così fan tutte
May 14–28 2022: Carmen

The 2021-2022 season at WNO was announced today. The season opens with a concert featuring sopranos Pretty Yende and Alexandria Shiner; mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard; tenors Lawrence Brownlee and David Butt Philip; and bass-baritone Christian Van Horn. Four world premieres open next March composed by Alicia Hall Moran, Huang Ruo, Kamala Sankaram, and Carlos Simon.

Press Release | Official Site


Seattle Opera's 2021-2020 Season

Dreaming-in-ColorOctober 16–30 2021: La bohème
January 12–30 2022: Orpheus and Eurydice
February 26- March 12 2022: Jeanine Tesori's Blue
May 7-21 2022: Le nozze di Figaro

Seattle Opera announced the 2021-2022 season today, which will mark a return to in person performances. Librettist Tazewell Thompson and composer Jeanine Tesori's Blue, an opera about police brutality against African Americans, will open at McCaw Hall next February. The piece features baritone Gordon Hawkins, bass Kenneth Kellogg, and mezzo-soprano Briana Hunter.

Official Site


Merola's 2021 Participants

Carrie-anne-2400x1200Sopranos
Emily Blair, Hoffman Estates, Illinois
Catherine Goode, Friendswood, Texas
Magdalena Kuźma, New York, New York
Celeste Morales, San Antonio, Texas
Ashley Marie Robillard, Norton, Massachusetts
Mikayla Sager, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Johanna Will, Dresden, Germany

Mezzo-Sopranos
Gabrielle Barkidjija, River Forest, Illinois
Gabrielle Beteag, Atlanta, Georgia
Jesse Mashburn, Hartselle, Alabama
Nikola Printz, Novato, California

Tenors
Victor Cardamone, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Gabriel Hernandez, Tampa, Florida
Philippe L'Esperance, Grafton, Massachusetts
Tianchi Zhang, Huainan, Anhui, China

Baritones
Thomas Lynch, Lynbrook, New York
Samson McCrady, Tucson, Arizona
Laureano Quant, Barranquilla, Colombia

Bass-Baritones
Ben Brady, Denver, Colorado
Andrew Dwan, Mountain View, California

Apprentice Coaches
Erica Xiaoyan Guo, Tianjin, China
Yang Lin, Shanghai, China
Anna Smigelskaya, Saint Petersburg, Russia
Shiyu Tan, Changsha, Hunan, China
Marika Yasuda, Williamsburg, Virginia

Apprentice Stage Director
Audrey Chait, Menlo Park, California

The Merola Opera Program announced participants for 2021, most of whom were to be in the program last year. The program has a new artistic director, Carrie-Ann Matheson (pictured) and new general manager, Markus Beam.

The 2021 season includes three performances including a recital featuring black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and female composers on July 3, a digital format production from film director David Paul on July 30, and the Merola Grand Finale on July 31. Details for the locations of these performances is still to be determined.

Official Site | Press Release


SF Opera Barber Drive-In Review

Barber_stefancohen_328* Notes * 
San Francisco Opera presented a delightful drive-in version of The Barber of Seville (pictured, photograph by Stefan Cohen) at Marin Center starting last Friday. The new production from director Matthew Ozawa is bold and fun.

Maestro Roderick Cox made a fine debut conducting the 18 members of a mostly masked and socially-distanced orchestra from a tent behind the stage. Despite these challenges, the proceedings were lively and bright, only the horn sounded hesitant at the April 24 performance I attended. It made me really look forward to hearing all the musicians again back at the War Memorial, and hopefully Cox gets a chance in a proper orchestra pit with them.

The opera is presented as a rehearsal at our beloved opera house, and we hear Managing Director of Production Jennifer Good as the Stage Manager, threading together the arias and ensembles as they unfold in dressing rooms, rehearsal spaces, and on the opera stage. The set was meant for the Fidelio production that was to have been performed last September, and is repurposed here with lots and lots of video projections of the San Francisco opera house. It is definitely busy, there are four screens that can be moved about, but it works. The images read well from afar and make the drive-in aspect of the production feasible.

It was so pleasing to see and hear so many beloved and familiar opera singers in this Barber, nearly the whole cast has been in the Merola Opera Program. I've heard mezzo Catherine Cook as Berta dozens of times, but she always brings verve to the role. Her sound is incisive and completely distinct from any of the Rosinas she's been cast with. Bass Kenneth Kellogg made the most of Don Basilio's "La calunnia," his deep, rich tones are impressive. Bass-baritone Philip Skinner is a very amusing Dr. Bartolo, his voice is reliable.

Mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack (Rosina) and tenor Alek Shrader (Almaviva) are adorable little lovebirds on and off stage, and their voices are both well-suited to Rossini. Mack is visibly pregnant, and I felt exhausted for her, but she sang with vivid lightness and warmth throughout. Baritone Lucas Meachem is also completely perfect in the title role, his personable Figaro has a lot of appeal. The diction throughout the performance was clear from everyone, and I did not have to read the supertitles at all.

* Tattling * 
It was 524 days since the last live performance I attended at San Francisco Opera and 419 since the last live performance I've heard, so I was very excited to be there, even if it was in my silly little Prius with a substandard sound system. There was static at times but this was much preferable to the filmed versions of operas I've watched in my car.

I do wish there were a couple of matinee performances of the production, though only 90 minutes long and performed without an intermission, the 8pm start time is too late for my small children, who would have loved the performance with all the sight-gags and color. But perhaps the projections would not have shown up well during daylight.

The Covid protocols were strict: no being outside unless going to the restroom, masks need to be on, and vehicles were physically distanced. There were a few cars whose lights turned on at times unexpectedly, but for the most part there were fewer distractions than from a normal opera audience. I really liked that they asked right away that people not honk their horns after numbers and gave everyone glow sticks to show their appreciation for the music.


Anything for Love and Honor Recital

Issachah-savage-2021* Notes *
The San Francisco Opera training program Merola successfully held a virtual recital last Sunday using Vimeo. Featuring tenor Issachah Savage (pictured), a Merola alum from 2013, the beautiful singing was entirely in German.

The recital was entitled "Anything for Love and Honor" and included arias and songs by Richard Strauss, Hugo Wolf, and Richard Wagner. Savage and his piano accompanist Laurie Rogers started off strong with "Allmächt'ger Vater" from Wagner's Rienzi. Savage has a bright, focused tone and clear diction. Rogers gets a lot of colors out of the piano, and is an impressive stand-in for a whole orchestra.

Savage went on to sing three pieces by Strauss and three selections from Wolf's Italienisches Liederbuch. His voice is powerful and open. I particularly liked the bouncy and dance-like "Ein Ständchen Euch zu bringen." The two most memorable offerings were certainly at the end, both showstoppers from Wagner operas. His renditions of "Winterstürme" from Die Walküre and "Nur eine Waffe taugt" from Parsifal piqued my curiosity about hearing Savage sing a whole opera by Wagner. He's scheduled for LA Opera's Tannhäuser in October, and hopefully the Covid pandemic will be contained enough for us to be back at indoor performances by then.

Tattling * 
There were a few crackles and pops in the Vimeo live transmission of this performance, but it was nothing like the first attempt with this virtual venue back in February with Karen Slack's recital.

Savage wore some dapper blue shoes for his recital, and Rogers matched with a sparkly blue cardigan.


Of Thee I Sing! Songs of Love and Justice Recital

Karen-slack-2021-scott-grieder* Notes *
The Merola Opera Program of San Francisco Opera tried to hold a virtual recital back at the beginning of February using Vimeo. Featuring soprano Karen Slack (pictured, photograph by Scott Grieder) with pianist Mary Pinto, the weather in Philadelphia interrupted the performance several times and ultimately they had to rerecord the recital for on demand viewing.

Entitled "Of Thee I Sing! Songs of Love and Justice" the recital was entirely made up of songs in English, many either composed by African Americans, such as H. Leslie Adams and Adolphus Hailstork or with texts by or about African Americans. Langston Hughes' "Kids Who Die" set to music by Scott Gendel is viscerally disturbing and made me squirm in my seat.

Slack's voice is crystalline, every note perfectly clean and strong. Her rendition of Undine Smith Moore's "Love Let The Wind Cry… How I Adore Thee" was utterly lovely, her soaring high notes showed no strain. I also found H.T. Burleigh's "Lovely, Dark, and Lonely One" particularly beautiful. Pinto's accompaniment was restrained and supportive but sufficiently lush as well.

Tattling * 
Since this was not a live event, the recording is quite smooth and without technical glitches.

Pinto wore two different black dress shoes, a stiletto on her left foot and a more blocky heel on her right.


SF Opera Returns to Live Performance

Lucas Meachem (Figaro)_photo Simon Pauly  San Francisco Opera returns to live performance this April with Il barbiere di Siviglia in an outdoor drive-in production at the Marin Center in San Rafael. The performances star Lucas Meachem (pictured, photograph by Simon Pauly) as Figaro, Daniela Mack and Laura Krumm sharing the role of Rosina, and Alek Shrader as Almaviva. There will also be three Adler concerts in a similar format. Tickets go on sale on March 9 for donors and subscribers and March 23 for everyone else.

There are also a number of digital offerings in the spring, including free streams of the Ring Cycle in March.

Press Release | On StageOpera Is On


SF Opera Tosca Drive-In Review

Picture041 * Notes * 
San Francisco Opera presented Tosca (Adrianne Pieczonka in the title role and Lado Ataneli as Scarpia, photograph by Cory Weaver) at Fort Mason Flix last weekend. The 2009 performance is not the latest production, but the previous one from 1997 for the War Memorial's reopening.

The orchestra, conducted by Marco Armiliato, sounded vivid. Lado Ataneli is quite an evil Scarpia, his voice has a nice heft to it. Tenor Carlo Ventre is an appealing Cavaradossi, he seems less delicate in the filmed version of this performance but the reedy quality of his voice is apparent. His "E lucevan le stelle" was lovely. Adrianne Pieczonka is a creamy-voiced and powerful Tosca. Her "Vissi d'arte" had me in tears.

This recording includes a lot of shots of the audience in the War Memorial Opera House. It was a little difficult to watch, not only because it is hard to imagine being that close to people inside without masks after all these months, but also because live performance seems so remote at this point and I, for one, sure do miss it.

* Tattling * 
I was lightly teased by a staff member of Fort Mason Flix about seeing this opera by myself, which made me laugh, since I've basically been around my children and husband constantly for 335 days. I considered bringing my almost seven-year old to the screening but decided I wasn't ready to have to explain Scarpia to him just yet.

We were not supposed to leave our vehicles except to use the restrooms, and there were no concessions on the premises. I brought blueberries, apples, cashews, and cheese to snack on. Some cars had trouble keeping their headlights off, I was glad to see the staff had signs to indicate this to the offending patrons.

There is still a lot of daylight at 5pm when the screening I saw started, so it was a little difficult to see what was happening in some of the early scenes of the opera. It was very funny to see seagulls fly past the screen, after hearing them so much in the nearby Cowell Theater for years.


SF Opera Drive In Tosca Rescheduled

Picture011San Francisco Opera has rescheduled Puccini's Tosca on February 12 and 13 at the Fort Mason Flix Drive-In. The 2009 production starring Adrianne Pieczonka (pictured with Carlo Ventri as Cavaradossi and Joel Sorensen as Spoletta, photograph by Cory Weaver) in the title role was orignally set for December 11 and 12 but was cancelled because of the Stay at Home order that ended on Monday.

Press Release | Official Site


SF Opera Streaming January February 2021

001 TraviataSan Francisco Opera continues its streaming program Opera Is On with Verdi's La Traviata (pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) from 2014 this weekend on January 30 to 31. From this production tenor Stephen Costello, soprano Nicole Cabell, and assistant stage director Shawna Lucey will be interviewed live on Friday, January 29 at 1pm. One can register for this Zoom event here.

In February, the weekends will bring Wagner's Lohengrin, Mozart's Così fan tutte, Puccini's La Rondine, and Verdi's Falstaff.

Press Release | Opera Is On