SF Opera Chorus Celebrates Ian Robertson
December 12, 2021
* Notes *
The San Francisco Opera Chorus is sending off its Chorus Director Ian Robertson (pictured with the chorus, photograph by Matthew Washburn) with two sold-out concerts at the Atrium Theater this weekend. Robertson is ending his distinguished 35-season tenure with these performances, which he is conducting.
Saturday evening's performance began with Associate Chorus Master Fabrizio Corona playing a processional on the piano as the chorus members filed in and took their places. The first half of the concert included much from the standard choral repertoire beginning with selections from Charpentier's Te Deum.
It was downright impressive and even somewhat alarming being in such an intimate space with this accomplished chorus. The amount of sound the singers produce has such a visceral effect, and having them front and center is a joy. Robertson introduced pieces as we went along, he's personable and his reflections on the works was most welcome.
I loved hearing Bach's "Wohl mir, daß ich Jesum habe," the chorale from Cantata BWV 147 sung so harmoniously, a far cry from what the piece sounded like when I played it in my high school orchestra. This was followed by "Endless Pleasure" from Händel's Semele, Mozart's "Placido è il mar" from Idomeneo, and Mozart's "Heil sie euch Geweihten" from Die Zauberflöte. All of this was truly gorgeous, some of my favorites, and the soloists from the chorus are incredible. Lots of nice clean singing.
Next we heard choruses from operas by Donizetti, Puccini, and of course Verdi. The agility of the singers is striking, so fleet and light for Donizetti, meditative for Puccini's Humming Chorus, and pure and resonant for Verdi's "Va, pensiero."
The second half of the night showcased more unusual pieces, starting with some funny selections from Offenbach's La belle Hélène. "Marche de l'oie" ("March of the goose") was particularly delightful. Low voices were highlighted in Jennifer Higdon's Act II Chorus for the Dead Soldiers from Cold Mountain, while higher voices were in the foreground for Two Mountain Songs by Gabriela Lena Frank. I'm quite curious to hear Higdon's complete opera someday, this chorus is really lovely and Frank's layered, evocative work is also intriguing. "Envuelto por el Viento" has a section of singers humming, another doing whispery echoes, and the last third actually singing.
There was even a world premiere commissioned by San Francisco Opera in honor of Robertson, entitled Invitation to Love by Oakland-based artist Cava Menzies. The text is a poem from Paul Laurence Dunbar, and the piece showed off how cohesive the ensemble is.
The performance ended (ovation pictured, photograph by Matthew Washburn) with the optimistic "Make our garden grow" from Bernstein's Candide, a very cheerful and pleasant finale indeed.
* Tattling *
The first rows of the Atrium Theater were blocked off, presumably as part of Covid safety protocols. The venue only holds 320 people at most, so this definitely made tickets hard to come by.
There was some quiet commentary behind me, but mostly reactions to the singing, so it didn't bother me much. A person in this same row reacted very badly (and somewhat more loudly) however to the woman next to him trying to take a picture of Ian Robertson during the performance, and he was able to switch seats after intermission.