SF Opera's 'Antony and Cleopatra' - legendary lovers inspire operatic partnerships

  • by Philip Campbell
  • Tuesday September 6, 2022
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Amina Edris as Cleopatra and Gerald Finley as Antony in an early rehearsal of John Adams' "Antony and Cleopatra"<br>(photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera)
Amina Edris as Cleopatra and Gerald Finley as Antony in an early rehearsal of John Adams' "Antony and Cleopatra"
(photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera)

Any production of a new opera is a big deal. The world premiere of an opera by American composer John Adams is an international event. A co-commission and co-production with the Metropolitan Opera and Barcelona's Liceu Opera created especially for San Francisco Opera's (SFO) 100th season, "Antony and Cleopatra" opens September 10 for seven performances through October 5 at the War Memorial Opera House.

Anticipation runs justifiably high for SFO's fifth production with Adams, adapted from William Shakespeare's tragic love story by the composer with consultation by director Elkhanah Pulitzer and dramaturg (editor) Lucia Scheckner. In her second season as SFO's Music Director, Eun Sun Kim leads the Orchestra, Chorus and well-chosen cast. John Keene is Chorus Director.

Acclaimed for her directorial triumphs with West Edge Opera (formerly Berkeley Opera) Elkhanah Pulitzer is no stranger to John Adams. Staging "Nixon in China" for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and "The Gospel According to the Other Mary" at the San Francisco Symphony in 2017, Pulitzer understands the composer's range of expression.

Composer John Adams
(photo: Deborah O'Grady c. 2022)  

The innovative director updates the play's political intrigues and romance to 1930s Hollywood. Newsreel footage shows Cleopatra, Antony and Caesar in their intimate private lives and glamorous over-the-top public personalities.

From the pageantry of politics to the stark urgency of passionate humanism, Adams' music has evolved over a remarkable career span. At 75, he has become the most-performed living American classical composer. Miles from his stereotypical early labeling as a minimalist, the composer has proven his musical genius and flair for brilliant orchestration. More than that, his music has a unique and unmistakable beauty, nuanced and powerful.

There is a pleasing consonance to Adam's latest association with SFO. "Doctor Atomic" (2005) and "Girls of the Golden West" (2017) were commissioned by the Company and had their world premieres at the War Memorial Opera House (WMOH). The highly controversial "The Death of Klinghoffer" (1992), a SFO co-commission, and "Nixon in China" (2012) have been staged there as well.

New and veteran vocalists
Of the cast, Soprano Amina Edris is facing a career-making opportunity as Cleopatra. Born in Egypt and raised in New Zealand, the talented young singer has been keeping busy on the international scene. With stops in France at the Paris Opera and the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence, Edris is back in San Francisco where audiences first sat up took notice.

Amina Edris as Cleopatra; Gerald Finley as Antony in John Adams' "Antony and Cleopatra" (photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera)  

A former Merola Opera Program participant (2015) and San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow (2016, 2017) she has since appeared at the WMOH as Juliette in Gounod's "Romeo et Juliette"; Frasquita in "Carmen"; Annina in "La Traviata"; and Flower/Lady-in-Waiting in Bright Sheng's "Dream of the Red Chamber."

Grammy-award winning Canadian bass-baritone Gerald Finley made his 2005 SFO debut and an indelible impression in Adams' "Doctor Atomic" as J. Robert Oppenheimer. Finley's commanding stage presence, voice and handsome looks augment an already highly praised repertoire as Cleopatra's second Roman lover Antony.

Tenor Paul Appleby made his Company debut in 2015 as stand-up Prince Tamino in Mozart's "The Magic Flute." In 2017, his terrifying portrayal of psychotic miner Joe Cannon in John Adams' "Girls of the Golden West" proved his range. He will play the young Caesar, Octavius in his second Adams world premiere.

Bass-baritone Alfred Walker's SFO roles include his debut in 2017 as Orest in a stunning production of "Elektra," the Father in "Hansel and Gretel" (2019) and a role debut starring as Scarpia in "Tosca" (2021).

Mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong performed in Adams' "The Gospel According to the Other Mary" with the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia with the composer conducting in 2018. She enacts Caesar's sister, Octavia, who is married to Antony. Her voice has been described as possessing "contralto opulence with blazing top notes..."

Paul Appleby as Caesar (center) and members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus in an early rehearsal of John Adams' "Antony and Cleopatra" (photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera)  

Innovative designs
The production team includes Tony Award-winning set designer and MacArthur Fellow Mimi Lien, costume designer Constance Hoffman, lighting designer David Finn (gorgeous work on SFO's 2019 "Rusalka"), projection designer Bill Morrison, designer of "Nixon in China" (Los Angeles Philharmonic) and sound designer and mixing engineer Mark Grey.

Performances of "Antony and Cleopatra" are scheduled for September 10 (7:30pm), 15 (7:30pm), 18 (2pm), 23 (7:30pm), 27 (7:30pm), October 2 (2pm), and 5 (7:30pm).

The Sunday, September 18 matinee will be streamed live at 2pm PT. The performance will be available to watch on-demand for 48 hours beginning on Monday, September 19 at 10am PT. www.sfopera.com/digital

All casting, programs, schedules and ticket prices are subject to change. For further information about San Francisco Opera's 2022—23 Season, visit www.sfopera.com

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