The incoming 2020 Adler Fellows are sopranos Anne-Marie MacIntosh, Elisa Sunshine, and Esther Tonea; tenor Victor Starsky; baritone Timothy Murray; bass Stefan Egerstrom; and apprentice coach Andrew King. They join current Adlers mezzo-soprano Simone McIntosh; tenors Zhengyi Bai, Christopher Colmenero, Christopher Oglesby; and pianist Kseniia Polstiankina Barrad. The outgoing 2019 Adler Fellows are sopranos Mary Evelyn Hangley and Natalie Image; mezzo-soprano Ashley Dixon; countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen; baritone SeokJong Baek, bass-baritone Christian Pursell; and pianist César Cañón.
Adler Fellowship Program
The theme is electronic dance music (EDM) and opera, and will feature Adler Fellows and Loves Company. I asked co-hosts and Adler Fellows Anthony Reed and Aria Umezawa a few questions about curating this event.
Umezawa is a director who recently had a successful run of Hamlet at West Edge Opera. She is also the co-founder and artistic director of Toronto-based independent opera company Opera 5 and has an online web-series called "Opera Cheats."
How are EDM and opera similar?
Anthony Reed: That is something we have been trying to figure out during this process, and it's been a fun task. I think both forms have the power to seep into people's skin. Opera helps people escape into the lives of the characters on stage. Seeing the characters on stage can reflect and mirror one's own personal experiences and add new insight into whatever it is going on in your life at the moment. EDM helps people escape into sheer sonority. With sweeping pads, incessant rhythms, and undulating melodies it's easy to ride the highs and lows and sometimes even enter into a meditative state.
Aria Umezawa: Opera and EDM are not subtle art forms - they are both about big emotions and big moments, and how the music builds up to them. With both genres it can feel as if you are on a rollercoaster climbing a huge hill, just waiting for the drop on the other side. In many ways, they're a perfect fit!
What are the challenges of blending these genres?
Anthony: Opera by nature is an entirely acoustic art form. The glory of opera is that a single human voice can project over an entire orchestra without the assistance of amplification. There are no electronics required to send the sound into a space and directly touch the listener. EDM is the polar opposite, in most cases doing away with acoustic instruments all together. The hardest part about this event is marrying the acoustic to the electronic.
Aria: Finding repertoire that would work was a bit complicated. Anthony and I both have diverse tastes when it comes to music, and when faced with a dance party themed show, we really had to resist the urge to do more crossover pieces like "Bohemian Rhapsody." We focused on choosing works that have a great beat or that match the emotional arc people look for in electronic music.
What are we to expect from this event? What exactly will the mashups be like?
Anthony: I think people can expect to have a great time experiencing a genre blend they may never get a chance to be a part of again. Some of the singers will get a chance to affect their voices electronically and the DJs will sample some opera singing into their set lists. Ultimately we are striving for something cohesive, but the fact that these two seemingly disparate genres are existing in the same space, simultaneously, is exciting on its own!
Aria: I think you can expect to dance, to party, to hear great singing, and to hear great spinning. The mashups we have planned are going to play with both what technology can do with the operatic voice and seeing what classical music can bring to electronic music.
You have worked together before on a recital that blended art song and romantic comedy. Was that helpful in putting together this event?
Anthony: Doing my Rom-Com recital [The Woods: A Rom-Com Recital, April 9, 2017] was an exercise in thinking outside of the box. One of my biggest fears as an entertainer is to bore people. Meeting expectations is an easy way to manifest that fear. So, in everything I do, I try to approach things from a new angle that gives old forms fresh perspective. The nature of this event is that there is no box, so the challenge is trying to create one to fill.
Aria: Working together on The Woods gave us a chance to get to know each other, which I think was very helpful. I am, frankly, in awe of how creative Anthony is and how thoughtful he is as an artist. I think he's exactly the type of person that you want to partner with on a project like this, because he brings so much to the table while being collaborative.
* Notes *
The Schwabacher Debut Recital Series continued yesterday with an unusual twist: Adler Fellow Aria Umezawa directed a narrative for mezzo-soprano Renée Rapier and bass Anthony Reed entitled The Woods: A Rom-Com Recital. Set in a bar called "The Woods," the plot (put together by Reed) involves an encounter between a lovelorn barkeeper and an unhappily married patron, pieced together with about twenty American songs including contemporary composers such as Ned Rorem, Thomas Pastatieri, and Stephen Sondheim and older favorites from Cole Porter and George Gershwin.
The staging was simple, a projection of a neon bar sign, a bar, a karaoke stage, a couple of tables and chairs, and of course the piano upstage played by John Churchwell. Clocking in at an hour, with no intermission, it was a quick and engaging evening. The pieces went together nicely and the young singers gamely played their roles.
It was especially nice to see Reed in a role that he's not ridiculously young for, as many of his bass parts on the War Memorial stage he plays are of characters seem at least three times his age. His voice is fresh and youthful despite how deep it is. Rapier too has a flexible, balanced sound that is attractive in this rep. The two sang the duets Gershwin's "I've got a crush on you" and Sondheim's "Move On" particularly well.
The next Schwabacher at the end of the month goes back to the normal recital format with pianist Warren Jones and three current Adler Fellows, but it was fun to get a taste of something different and perhaps more operatic. I had wondered how San Francisco Opera would handle having a director as an Adler Fellow, and it seems that Ms. Umezawa is bringing a lot of creativity to the fore, having recently also put together an SF Opera Lab pop-up in Oakland involved audience participation in a manner that was actually fun and not annoying.
* Tattling *
I sandwiched myself in the front row between two avid opera fans, both of whom were very quiet.
San 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.
* Notes *
San Francisco Opera's Adler Fellows had an especially impressive annual concert at Herbst Theater last Friday. Supported by the talents of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Maestro Jordi Bernacer, the new resident conductor, the singers gave one electrifying performance after another.
San Francisco Opera has been keeping the Adlers busy this fall, and it was great to hear the likes of tenor Pene Pati and baritone Edward Nelson take center stage for a change. Pati is arresting every time I hear him, and as Tebaldo in I Capuleti e i Montecchi, he sang "Che sei tu che ardisci aggirarti furtivo?" with utter conviction, making Nian Wang (Romeo) seem a bit weak in comparison. Pati was charming in a duet with his wife Amina Idris (pictured above, photograph by Kristen Loken), they sang "Quoi, vous m'aimez? ... De cet aveu si tendre" and were very cute. Pati also did very well with "Quango le sere al placido" from Luisa Miller.
Edward Nelson was another standout, his acting was perfect for the duet he sang with soprano Toni Marie Palmertree from Pagliacci. He was completely engaging in "Look, through the port comes the moonlight astray" and one hopes to hear him cast as Billy Budd sometime in the future.
Julie Adams had my favorite aria of the evening with "Glück das mir verblieb" from Die tote Stadt, a reminder both of her incredible voice, put to use only in smaller roles like Kate Pinkerton and Kristina lately, and of the amazing run we had of this opera back in 2008. Adams also gave a riveting performance of "The trees on the mountain" from Susannah.
I was most taken aback by hearing bass Anthony Reed in Song of the Viking Guest from Rimsky-Korsakov's Sadko, he sounded really nice. Oftentimes I find it hard to appreciate the Adlers with lower voices, as they tend to be less far along in their development, and it's hard to extrapolate how their voices will be in decades to come. Reed often sounds a little underpowered to me, and his youth is always at odds with the old man roles he plays on the War Memorial stage.
* Tattling *
It has been so long since I've been to one of these concerts that I didn't realize it is held in Herbst rather than the War Memorial. I had to scurry over and thank goodness traffic hadn't been worse, or I would not have made it in time.
I sat next to a critic who asked me if Toni Marie Palmertree had to step in as Butterfly for a performance, which I confirmed, she sang the role on November 18. On the other side of me was an enthusiastic man who forgot to turn off his phone, which rang before the singing started for the first aria, but kept making sounds as he tried to disable it.
The incoming 2017 Adler Fellows are soprano Sarah Cambidge; tenor Amitai Pati and Kyle van Schoonhoven; baritone Andrew Manea; stage director Aria Umezawa; and apprentice coaches John Elam and Jennifer Szeto. They join current Adlers Amina Idris, Toni Marie Palmertree, Pene Pati, Brad Walker, and Ronny Michael Greenberg. The outgoing 2016 Adler Fellows are Julie Adams, Zanda Švēde, Nian Wang, Edward Nelson, Matthew Stump, Anthony Reed, and Noah Lindquist.
* Notes *
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.
The incoming 2016 Adler Fellows are sopranos Amina Edris and Toni Marie Palmertree; tenor Pene Pati; and bass-baritone Brad Walker. They join current Adlers Julie Adams, Zanda Švēde, Nian Wang, Edward Nelson, Matthew Stump, Anthony Reed, Noah Lindquist, and Ronny Michael Greenberg. The outgoing 2015 Adler Fellows are Jacqueline Piccolino, Maria Valdes, Chong Wang, and Efraín Solís.
* Notes *
A number of San Francisco Opera Center's Adler Fellows (pictured left) performed with conductor Nicholas McGegan and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra last night at the SFJazz Center. The evening was a delight from beginning to end. The first half of the program featured four instrumental pieces interspersed with four vocal pieces, all by Mozart. The Overture in D major, K. 106 was played with grace, while Contredanse No. 1 in D major, K. 106 sounded rather cheery. I enjoyed the emphatic playing of the repeated notes in Contredanse No. 3 in B-flat major, K. 106.
Soprano Julie Adams sang "Nehmt meinen Dank" with clarity. Her voice has much strength and not a trace of strain. Baritone Edward Nelson was terribly charming in "Con un vezzo all'italiana" from La finta giardiniera. The quartet "Dite almeno, in che mancai" with Adams, Nelson, tenor Brian Thorsett, and bass Anthony Reed was brilliant as well.
The second half of the show was devoted to Rossini's first produced opera, La cambiale di matrimonio (The Marriage Contract). The piece is concise and quite amusing. The orchestra played with verve and McGegan looked pleased throughout as he conducted. Some of the Baroque instruments seemed less well-suited to Rossini than others, but the enthusiasm of all those involved never waned.
The singing was wonderful. Mezzo-soprano Nian Wang sang Clarina's aria ("An'chio son giovine") with conviction. Bass Matthew Stump makes for a wonderful, blustering Tobia Mill. Baritone Efraín Solís is hilarious as Slook. Tenor Brian Thorsett sings Edoardo Milfort with effortlessness. Soprano Jacqueline Piccolino is a dulcet-toned Fannì. Her sings with a certain subtlety that is appealing for this role.
* Tattling *
The first five rows were removed to provide the orchestra with a pit.
San Francisco Opera is taking over the Rickshaw Stop for pop-up event entitled "Barely Opera" on March 2, 2015 at 8:00pm. The evening will feature famous arias, Broadway tunes, and more performed by the Adler Fellows. Tickets are 10 dollars, available at Event Brite or at the door.
* Notes *
A sixth Metropolitan Opera performance of John Adams' The Death of Klinghoffer (Act II, Scene 2 pictured left, photograph by Ken Howard) was held last Saturday. There were a handful of protesters with signs reading "Shame on Peter Gelb Met Opera" and so forth. The opera itself is not particularly contentious, if anything, it is a mild, mournful piece. The characters are shown as rather human, and of course there was a choice line from Leon Klinghoffer regretting his hatlessness. One imagines that this production might not be as well-attended were it not for the vehemence of the demonstrators.
The orchestra had a graceful clarity under the baton of David Robertson. The strings were particularly lucid, as were the woodwinds. The Met chorus also sounded strong and cohesive.
The principal singers all seemed suited to their roles. It was a joy to hear former Adler Fellows Sean Pannikar (Molqi) and Maya Lahyani (Palestinian Woman). Bass-baritone Aubrey Allicock had a strikingly disturbing aria as Mamoud in Act I, Scene 2. Baritone Paulo Szot made for an appropriately conflicted Captain. Baritone Alan Opie (Leon Klinghoffer) sang his finale aria with gravitas. Mezzo-soprano Michaela Martens was poignant as Marilyn Klinghoffer, her voice is rich and full.
Tom Morris' production makes use of projected text and historical photographs. The text is somewhat burdensome, and the photographs less so. The effect of the bright sun in Act II is haunting. The dancing, choreographed by Arthur Pita, is impressive, especially in the case of Jesse Kovarsky (Omar).
* Tattling *
I repeatedly hushed the woman behind me in Family Circle, as she spoke during the quietest parts of the music at the beginning of Act I. She informed me that she was reading the projected text that she could see to the two blind women she was with, and I sheepishly apologized at intermission.
I moved down to the right side of the last row of the Grand Tier to sit with some friends. A young composer seated near us may have spoken quite a lot during the music, but it was difficult muster annoyance at this, having already been so mortified by my own previous behavior.
The incoming 2015 Adler Fellows are mezzo-soprano Nian Wang, tenor Chong Wang, baritone Edward Nelson, bass-baritone Matthew Stump, bass Anthony Reed, and coach and accompanist Ronny Michael Greenberg. They join current Adlers Julie Adams, Maria Valdes, Zanda Švēde, Efraín Solís, and Noah Lindquist. Soprano Julie Adams joined the 2014 class of Adler Fellows in Fall 2014 and will continue as a first-year Adler Fellow in 2015. The outgoing 2014 Adler Fellows are Erin Johnson, Jacqueline Piccolino, A.J. Glueckert, Chuanyue Wang, Hadleigh Adams, and Philippe Sly.
* Notes *
The artistic director of New York Festival of Song, Steven Blier, presided over a Schwabacher Debut Recital entitled In the Memory Palace yesterday evening. The program included diverse selections from song cycles and vocal quartets with an underlying theme of courtship. Blier accompanied four Adler Fellows on piano.
The structure of the evening was divided in fourths, starting with a quartet, then featuring each singer in turn. We began with Heitor Villa-Lobos, first "Canção da folha morta" followed by soprano Maria Valdes singing three songs from Floresta do Amazonas. All four singers have powerful voices, but they were able to blend their sounds nicely. Valdes has an airy lightness but has a tawny warmth as well. She showed her versatility in these cinematic songs. Next we traveled to Northern Europe with the ensemble singing a Danish text set by Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar, Jens Peter's poem "I seraillets have." Then mezzo-soprano Zanda Švēde sang four Grieg songs with German texts. Her voice is incredibly rich and gorgeous, with a brilliant clarity.
After intermission we heard exclusively songs in English, starting with "Come live with me" by William Sterndale Bennett. Tenor AJ Gluekert did a fine job bringing his voice out for particular phrases, and then blending back in with the ensemble. Gluekert went on to sing four rather distinct songs by Frank Bridge, showing a range of emotions and styles. The fourth part of the program commenced with Sondheim's dizzying Two Fairy Tales. The singers were clearly listening to one another and working together. The last series of songs were by Gabriel Kahane, from the cycle The Memory Palace. Baritone Hadleigh Adams seemed at ease with both music and text. The last piece on the program was Smokey Robinson's "You've Really Got a Hold On Me," and it was slightly awkward, as Glueckert and Adams seemed perfectly comfortable singing this, but Valdes and Švēde simply sounded like opera singers. The encore, from Bernstein's Candide, was much more convincing. One would love to hear the Adlers sing the entire opera.
* Tattling *
Blier was characteristically amusing despite the many electronic interruptions from the audience while he went through the pieces with us.
* Notes *
San Francisco Opera's Annual Meeting for 2014 was held Thursday afternoon at Zellerbach Rehearsal Hall in San Francisco. Chairman of the Board John A. Gunn, Board of Directors President Keith B. Geeslin, CFO Michael Simpson, and General Director David Gockley all spoke. Both Geeslin and Gockley expressed concern over San Diego Opera's closing, since it has been well-run and has presented world-class talent. San Francisco Opera ran a deficit again, subscriptions continue to drop off, but the endowment is at an all-time high. The new Opera Center in the Veterans Building will start being built in January of next year. Once it opens, the plan is to program a Baroque opera each February, a family opera in March, and a contemporary opera in April. We also learnt that the DVD of San Francisco Opera's Porgy and Bess will be released next Tuesday.
Composer Carlisle Floyd joined us for the meeting, and was interviewed by David Gockley. Floyd's Susannah will be performed next season, and we were told about the composer's career. His next opera premieres in Houston. Three Adlers and one Adler alumna performed four pieces from Susannah: pianist Noah Lindquist; tenor A.J.Glueckert; baritone Hadleigh Adams; and soprano Rhoslyn Jones. Jones sang "Ain't it a Pretty Night" with particular poignancy.
* Tattling *
During the reception after the meeting David Gockley asked me where I had been and I assured him I would make myself less scarce given that a Baroque opera is programmed this fall.
* Notes *
Bass-baritone Philippe Sly (pictured left, photograph by Adam Scotti) gave a recital with guitarist John Charles Britton for the Salons at the Rex series Wednesday evening. The evening's music consisted of fifteen Schubert Lieder, including ones from Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise. Instead of providing the text in the program, Sly read translations of each before singing. The guitar arrangements were done by Britton himself, some worked better than others, since the instrument is so different from piano. The quietness of guitar is quite lovely in a salon setting. Sly's voice is youthfully exuberant, but he has control of his volume and is able to scale it down for a small room. "Du bist die Ruh" was particularly lovely. The encore was Chanson romanesque from Ravel's Don Quichotte à Dulcinée, which Sly sang with much vim and perhaps sounded best with Britton's guitar.
* Tattling *
Nearly every seat was taken, and I felt quite lucky to have gotten a ticket for the performance. A mobile phone rang while Sly was reading one of the translations, but otherwise there were few disturbances to the music.