Women in summer operas and symphony concerts

  • by Philip Campbell
  • Tuesday May 23, 2023
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"El último sueño de Frida y Diego" by Gabriela Lena Frank and Nilo Cruz<br>(photo: Karli Cadel/San Diego Opera)
"El último sueño de Frida y Diego" by Gabriela Lena Frank and Nilo Cruz
(photo: Karli Cadel/San Diego Opera)

Women's History Month has come and gone. It ought to last all year. The San Francisco Symphony and San Francisco Opera are both trying to extend the celebration by presenting a number of concerts and productions through May and June primarily focused on women.

Daniela Mack plays Frida Kahlo in "El último sueño de Frida y Diego" (photo: Shervin Lainez)  

May 25 and 27
The San Francisco Symphony and guest conductor Giancarlo Guerrero join with Lorelei Ensemble for the West Coast premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning "folk/rock/classical mixologist" Julia Wolfe's "Her Story." Director Anne Kauffman stages the two-part oratorio with scenic, lighting, and production designer Jeff Sugg.

A quote from a letter by Abigail Adams to husband John in 1776 reminds him "the ladies," if overlooked, "are determined to foment a rebellion." "Her Story" riffs on that theme.

June 1, June 2 & 3
Conductor Manfred Honeck and pianist Beatrice Rana share a traditional musical bill with the SFS premiere of Gloria Isabel Ramos Triano's "Amazon." Inspired by the Amazons of Greek mythology the composer says, "We all have images of those high-spirited women, as strong and tough as men, who also show their feminine emotions."

June 8 — 11
Kaija Saariaho's "Adriana Mater" makes its SFS premiere with conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, director Peter Sellars, mezzo-soprano Fleur Barron as Adriana, plus soprano Axelle Fanyo, tenor Nicholas Phan, baritone Christopher Purves, and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus.

A new staging of Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho's second opera, envisioned by famed theatrical innovator Sellars and SFS Music Director Salonen (himself a gifted composer) is an exciting prospect.

The story: a mother and son bond in a hostile and violent country facing civil war. They attempt to find a better future, torn between revenge and forgiveness. Resonant for contemporary audiences, it offers an opportunity to experience Saariaho's transcendent music.

Julia Bullock in 'Black Iris'  

Jun 29-30 & July 1
SFS Collaborative Partner soprano Julia Bullock is etched in memory from her pivotal role in the John Adams/Peter Sellars collaboration "Girls of the Golden West" at the San Francisco Opera.

A well-chosen program of songs celebrating the American story in works by George Gershwin and Margaret Bonds includes Reena Esmail's "Black Iris," which takes its name from the Georgia O'Keeffe painting, and examines the #MeToo movement.

June 3—July 1
San Francisco Opera's Summer Season includes a tragically abandoned woman in Puccini's "Madame Butterfly," valiant wives in Richard Strauss' "Die Frau Ohne Schatten" ("The Woman Without a Shadow") and an iconoclastic artist in the Bay Area premiere of "El ultimo sueno de Frida y Diego" by Berkeley-born composer Gabriela Lena Frank and Pulitzer Prize-winning librettist Nilo Cruz.

Karah Son in SF Opera's "Madame Butterfly"  

For "Madame Butterfly," SFO Music Director Eun Sun Kim conducts a new co-production directed by Amon Miyamoto (the first Japanese director on Broadway for the revival of "Pacific Overtures"). Costumes are by the late Kenzo Takada, who made a brilliant career in Paris. Set designer Boris Kudlicka provides background for Miyamoto's novel take, told from the viewpoint of the title character's son Trouble.

Adler Fellow Moises Salazar plays the cruelly insensitive Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton in the final performance on July 1. Out and proud American tenor Michael Fabiano (an SFO favorite and international star) sings the role in all other performances. Korean soprano Karah Son makes her Company debut as the heartbreaking Cio-Cio-San.

David Hockney's set design for SF Opera's "Die Frau Ohne Schatten"  

June 4—28
For "Die Frau Ohne Schatten," acclaimed interpreter of German epics and former SFO Music Director Sir Donald Runnicles conducts his first, "The Woman Without a Shadow" with Roy Rallo directing. The new-to-San Francisco Opera production features artist David Hockney's legendary sets.

The libretto is a murky mixture of legend, myth and questionable psychology, but the music is divine, orchestrated in Straussian everything but the kitchen sink mode, chock full of memorable motifs. The composer wrote ecstatically for women and the cast is rightfully dominated by Swedish soprano Nina Stemme as the Dyer's Wife, Finnish soprano Camilla Nylund as the Empress and San Francisco-born Linda Watson as the Nurse.

Nina Stemme plays Dyer's Wife in "Die Frau Ohne Schatten (photo: Neda Navaee)  

June 13—30
With "El Ultimo Sueno de Frida y Diego" ("The Last Dream of Frida and Diego"), Mexican director Lorena Maza's production is brought to colorful life with sets by Jorge Ballina, costumes by Eloise Kazan and lighting by Victor Zapatero. Roberto Kalb makes his Company debut conducting the SFO co-commissioned work, the first Spanish-language opera in the Company's 100-year history.

Argentine mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack plays Frida Kahlo, the painter whose life has become legend. Mexican baritone Alfredo Daza is Diego Rivera, her famous husband. In composer Gabriela Lena Frank and librettist Nilo Cruz's imagining, they reunite on El Dia de los Muertos for a final reconciliation.

Kearstin Piper Brown in Opera Parallèle's 'The Shining'  

Opera Parallele
Soprano Kearstin Piper Brown is related to the San Francisco Opera by her stage debut in "It's a Wonderful Life" by Jake Heggie and Gene Sheer in 2018. She portrayed the angel Clara in the final performance.

Now she portrays a terrified and very human wife in the West Coast premiere of Paul Moravec's opera, "The Shining," at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) June 2, 3 & 4.

Opera Parallèle, with Conductor Nicole Paiement and Director & Concept Designer Brian Staufenbiel, presents a revised version, with a libretto by Mark Campbell based on the novel by Stephen King.

Composer Tobias Picker made King's "Dolores Claiborne" an opera at the San Francisco Opera in 2013. It was not a success, but comparisons end there. Moravec's setting has legs and his newly created chamber music orchestration sounds intriguing.

A colleague wonders if the door-smashing "Heeeere's Johnny!" sequence from the Kubrick film is included. I do, too.


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