San Francisco Opera presents Puccini's La Bohème on November 20 and 22 at the Fort Mason Flix Drive-In, followed by Tosca on December 11 and 12. The 2008 production of Bohème stars Piotr Beczala and Angela Gheorghiu as Rodolfo and Mimì, the Tosca is from 2009 and stars Adrianne Pieczonka.
San Francisco Opera
* Notes *
San Francisco Opera held a drive-in event (pictured left, photograph by Kristen Loken) at Fort Mason Flix yesterday evening. The opera screened was Lucia di Lammermoor from 2008 with soprano Natalie Dessay in the title role. She is an incredible Lucia, and the filmed version captures this well. It was also flattering to the rest of the production.
The drive-in was orderly, the staff let each car in, first scanning tickets, then explaining which FM station to tune into to get the sound, and lastly leading each car to a space to allow for good sight lines. I was very pleased to see much of the house staff from the War Memorial, and glad to be in the third row near the middle in my compact hybrid.
There was strong enforcement of no lights from cars, drivers were admonished before the show began. Unfortunately, there were times when headlights and brake lights would turn on (including my own at least once) as cars would automatically shut off to conserve battery power.
Otherwise, the format is engaging, I preferred this to watching streams at home, it felt more like a real opera. It was nice to be in my own enclosed space without the normal distractions of small children or other ill-behaved audience members. It was noticeable how many coughs were carefully recorded in the audio when the orchestra was playing quietly.
Graham Vick's direction and Paul Brown's sets are suitably dramatic on the big screen. Dessay is both vulnerable and viscerally disturbing in her mad scene, it's clear how she's giving her all the the performance. Everyone sounded fine, better than I remembered live. Mezzo-soprano Cybele-Teresa Gouverneur didn't seem underpowered as Alisa, tenor Giuseppe Filianoti was only strained at times, and was always audible. The sextet was beautiful. It was lovely to hear the chorus and orchestra, they were consistent and powerful.
* Tattling *
It was very strange for me to be somewhat "out and about" doing something at least adjacent to what I would normally do before shelter-in-place. I felt extremely uncomfortable and could not bring myself to leave my car for concessions or the restrooms. It was good to see how many people wore masks outside of their cars but compliance was not perfect.
San Francisco Opera continues its streaming program Opera Is On with Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor on October 31 to November 1. The production is the one to be shown as a drive-in movie next Sunday.
Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera (pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) from 2014 will be presented on November 7-8, Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov from 2008 on November 14–15, Verdi's Rigoletto from 2012 on November 21–22, and Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore from 2008 on November 28–29.
San Francisco Opera presents Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor (pictured left, photograph by Terrence McCarthy) on October 25 at 6pm at Fort Mason Flix Drive-In. The production is from 2008 and stars Natalie Dessay.
98 cars with pre-purchased tickets will be admitted starting at 5pm and social distancing enforced. Guests must remain in their cars during the opera and wear a mask when leaving to visit concessions or restrooms.
San Francisco Opera continues its streaming program Opera Is On with Puccini's Tosca (pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) on October 10–11. The production is the revival from 2014 that stars Lianna Haroutounian.
Verdi's Attila from the summer of 2012 will be presented on October 17-18 and Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro from the 2014-2015 season on October 24-25.
* Notes *
Merola, San Francisco Opera's training program, kicked off a virtual recital series last Sunday via Zoom with baritone Lucas Meachem (pictured left, photograph by Natasha Sadakin) and his piano accompanist and wife Irina Meachem. They were very charming and it was a stark reminder of just how strange these pandemic times are.
Lucas Meachem was in Merola in 2003 and went on to be an Adler, he's performed most recently in San Francisco as Mercutio in Roméo et Juliette last season. He pretty much sang from operas he has performed in at San Francisco Opera, so there was “Mab, la reine des mensonges” from the aforementioned Gounod, “Bella siccome un angelo” from Don Pasquale, and such.
Irina Meachem introduced the pieces, and we got to hear about how it is to be in the same industry as your romantic partner and a little bit about the challenges of having a one-year-old.
I loved hearing him sing “Hai già vinta la causa” from Le Nozze di Figaro and “Deh, vieni alla finestra” from Don Giovanni. Meachem channels rakishness well and the richness of his voice came through even in Zoom. Best of all was "Mein Sehnen, Mein Wähnen" (Pierrot’s Tanzlied) from Die Tote Stadt. It brought back to mind San Francisco Opera's dazzling production of this opera back in 2008.
I definitely felt a pang of loss as I heard this recital from our camper van as we drove from Vernal, Utah to Reno, Nevada, the penultimate leg of a cross country trip from Nantucket, where we've been sheltering in place for the summer. 2020 has been a tough year, as much as I feel my privilege acutely, I do miss live performing arts so much. And I feel for all the artists who have had so many gigs canceled and whose livelihoods are on the line.
Lucas and Irina Meachem took the opportunity of this recital to present a piece by a black female composer, namely, Undine Smith Moore. The art song “Love Let the Wind Cry” is as beautiful as anything in the standard repertoire, and was a welcome addition to the program.
* Tattling *
There were some technical difficulties, though I'm not entirely sure if they were all on my end, since cellular coverage can be spotty in rural areas of our country. I got kicked off Zoom during an aria from Eugene Onegin, but was able to rejoin within a few minutes.
San Francisco Ballet and San Francisco Opera, along with the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center, announced today that the previously planned seat replacement project originally scheduled for summer 2021 will now take place over a 14-week period between September 2020 to January 2021 during the continuing COVID-19 venue closure this year.
General Director Matthew Shilvock announced the cancelation of the 2020-2021 season opening at San Francisco Opera today because of COVID-19. The performances were to begin on September 11 and to continue until December 6. The company expects return in April 2021 with Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Zemlinsky's Der Zwerg, and concerts starring Lianna Haroutounian and Iréne Theorin with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra.
San Francisco Opera has been streaming operas under the name "Opera Is On," most recently Il Trittico and continuing with Salome next weekend.
The Merola Opera Program announces the cancellation of the 2020 training program and Summer Festival, including all public performances, public master classes, and events scheduled, in accordance with local and global efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This is the first time in 63 years that San Francisco Opera's summer training program for singers, collaborative pianists, and directors has been canceled.
General Director Matthew Shilvock announced the cancelation of the rest of the 2019-2020 season at San Francisco Opera today because of COVID-19. The performances were to resume on June 7 and to continue until July 3.
Emily Blair, Hoffman Estates, Illinois
Catherine Goode, Friendswood, Texas
Magdalena Kuźma, New York, New York
Celeste Morales, San Antonio, Texas
Mikayla Sager, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Johanna Will, Dresden, Germany
Gabrielle Barkidjija, River Forest, Illinois
Gabrielle Beteag, Atlanta, Georgia
Jesse Mashburn, Hartselle, Alabama
Nikola Printz, Novato, California
Isabel Signoret, Miami, Florida
Victor Cardamone, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Gabriel Hernandez, Tampa, Florida
Philippe L'Esperance, Grafton, Massachusetts
WooYoung Yoon, Seoul, South Korea
Tianchi Zhang, Huainan, Anhui, China
Thomas Lynch, Lynbrook, New York
Samson McCrady, Tucson, Arizona
Laureano Quant, Barranquilla, Colombia
Ben Brady, Denver, Colorado
Andrew Dwan, Mountain View, California
Seungyun Kim, Cheong-ju, South Korea
Yang Lin, Shanghai, China
Michael McElvain, Chicago, Illinois
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 2020, the last for San Francisco Opera Center Director Sheri Greenawald (pictured, photograph by Kristen Loken), who is also the Artistic Director of the program.
The Schwabacher Summer Concert at the Presidio Theatre (99 Moraga Avenue, San Francisco) is on Thursday, July 9 and Saturday, July 11.
The Merola artists perform Postcard from Morocco on Thursday, July 23 and Saturday, July 25 and Le nozze di Figaro on Thursday, August 6 and Saturday, August 8. All of these operas are to be performed at the Presidio Theatre.
The season ends with the participants singing in the annual Merola Grand Finale on Saturday, August 22 at the War Memorial Opera House.
The Merolini arrive June 2, 2020, though the COVID-19 situation is being monitored, and the season may be postponed or canceled as a result.
September 11 2020: Opening Night Concert with Albina Shagimuratova, Pene Pati, and Eun Sun Kim
September 12– October 1 2020: Fidelio
September 13– October 4 2020: Rigoletto
October 6–28 2020: Così fan tutte
October 29- November 22 2020: Poul Ruders' The Handmaid's Tale
November 15–December 6 2020: La Bohème
April 25- May 16 2021: Il Barbiere di Siviglia
April 27- May 15 2021: Der Zwerg
May 2-8 2021: Lianna Haroutounian and Iréne Theorin in Concert: A Celebration of Verdi and Wagner
General Director Matthew Shilvock announced the 2020-2021 season for San Francisco Opera today. Because they are installing new seats in the War Memorial Opera House in from May to August 2021, the summer part of the opera season has been moved earlier.
It is really nice to see SF Opera put a woman of color into a leadership position, after creating a Department of Diversity, Equity and Community last summer and the various attempts at "diverse" operas such as Girls of the Golden West and Dream of the Red Chamber. Kim is from Seoul and studied composition and conducting there as well as in Stuttgart.
* Notes *
San Francisco Opera's second performance of Hansel and Gretel (Sasha Cooke and Heidi Stober in Act II pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) yesterday afternoon was a fine introduction to opera for young audiences. The title characters are winsome and powerful singers.
Adler Fellow soprano Mary Evelyn Hangley replaced mezzo-soprano Michaela Martens as Gertrude, the Mother. Hangley stepped in at the last moment, and General Director Matthew Shivlock gave the announcement of the cast change from the stage. She was on the quiet side, but was able to do the scenes with admirable self-possession.
The singers and supernumeraries were all able to avoid making too much noise this time during Act II, though the ballet dancer closed one of the doors a little too hard once.
It is fun hearing Engelbert Humperdinck's music live, he's clearly influenced by Wagner and German folk music. The woodwinds are absolutely lovely, and there were pretty soli from the viola, violin, and harp at various moments.
* Tattling *
Though I have a half subscription for San Francisco and usually do standing room otherwise, I requested press tickets for this event, as I felt this would be a good opportunity to bring my five year old (pictured) to the opera and also have an extra push to document the experience. The opera has been advertised as being "perfect for children ages 6 and up" but Theo enjoys both Wagner and polka, and he's good at sitting still and being quiet. Plus he did well with Opera Parallèle's The Little Prince last year and enjoyed the First Act program of Hansel and Gretel that San Francisco Opera held last March, which introduces 3 to 6 year olds to the story and characters.
Theo was nervous about the opera, though we read the version from Sing Me a Story: The Metropolitan Opera's Book of Opera Stories for Children, listened to a recording from 2007, and watched a DVD of a Met performance from 1982. The Witch is particularly frightening to him, so I did my best to prepare him by showing him as many photographs of the production as I could and explaining that she would be played by tenor Robert Brubaker. He was in my lap for all of Act III but he definitely was interested in what was going on, hiding his face once or twice when it became too much for him.
Theo found parts of the overture rather loud, but seemed to enjoy the music, especially the cuckoo in Act II. He loved exploring the War Memorial and eating opera cake at intermission with two aunties and an uncle.
Our seats in Row L were perfectly situated on the aisle so that Theo had no problem seeing. Theo used my cushion for Bayreuth, which I used when I was pregnant with him. I also wore my Siegfried outfit, since it has fairy tale characters on it.
There was a lot of questions from the little girl behind us who was there with her mother and another lady. Her parent tried to quietly answer her and shushed her many times. Theo occasionally would look back at the girl, they are about the same age. There was also commentary on what was going on by the elderly couple next to us. A man on the aisle across from us in Row K looked at his Apple Watch more than once during the music.
There are two more matinee performances the weekend after Thanksgiving and kids tickets are 50% off with a full price ticket purchase. For children that don't read yet, one might consider going to the Family Workshop of Hansel and Gretel on November 30 at 11am or 12:30pm.
* Notes *
An amusingly spooky production of Hansel and Gretel (Act III pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) opened at San Francisco Opera last night. The cast features many lucid, high voices and the orchestra sounded great.
This creepy set is inspired by Alfred Hitchcock, and this works surprisingly well -- the darkness of the original folk tale comes through. All the set changes are smooth, there were only a few awkward loud sounds against the floor in the forest scene of Act II.
Director and production designer Antony McDonald opts to give some of the backstory during the overture, using a cuckoo clock above the stage to indicate the passage of time, and making the mother Gertrude more understandable. His reframing of Act II, which instead of having fourteen angels in a pantomime has characters from Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Snow White and other fairy tales (pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) running around the woods together. Their interactions are quite funny and had me giggling.
All the singing was strong, from the ethereal sounds of mezzo-soprano Ashley Dixon as the Sandman and soprano Natalie Image as the Dew Fairy to the pleasant tones of bass-baritone Alfred Walker as Peter, the father of Hansel and Gretel. Mezzo-soprano Michaela Martens (Gertrude, the Mother) has a piercingly powerful voice that conveys much emotion.
Tenor Robert Brubaker is delightful as a drag queen witch, Rosina Lickspittle, ingratiating at first and increasingly more threatening. Our title characters are clear voiced and perfectly charming. Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke is a roguish Hansel and soprano Heidi Stober a sprightly Gretel.
Maestro Christopher Franklin conducted a nimble orchestra that ranges from stately to vivacious. There were times that the orchestra did overwhelm the singers, but the playing was attractive, especially from the woodwinds.
* Tattling *
I've never heard this opera live, as I was put off by the 2002-2003 production because it was also in English and not the original German. Now that I have more or less illiterate but music loving child, I definitely appreciate that these performances are in English. I spent much of my time during this opening performance playing attention to what my very sensitive 5-year old will be interested in or afraid of in the performance, so I can prepare him for the matinee we will attend tomorrow. He's crazy for clocks and household appliances, and he's sure to be intrigued and possibly terrified of the wooden spoon that sparks fire and the intense lighting effects.
The audience had quite a few youths at it and even small children, but was not close to being sold-out by any means. An usher slipped into Box Y next to us during the overture and proceeded to rifle around in her bag to get out her dinner, which she ate during Act I. I thought it was a sandwich but my date insists it was a burrito. Otherwise, there was the usual light talking during the music, but on the whole audience members contained themselves.