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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Comes to SF Opera

Posted By on Tue, Sep 8, 2015 at 11:00 AM

  • Courtesy of Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera
  • Brian Mulligan as Sweeney Todd

Brian Mulligan has an answer you don’t hear every day about what’s the most fun for him about playing Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street in Stephen Sondheim’s musical, coming to the San Francisco Opera this fall.

“All the blood,” he says. “I kill six people onstage and there’s blood everywhere- on me and on them. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever done before.”

But there’s more to the role than blood. Mulligan, a baritone who studied at the Yale School of Music and at Julliard, says he dreamed of playing Sweeney Todd. For one thing, he feels he communicates best singing in his native English. But it’s mostly the range of emotions the character goes through.

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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Two Women, Made Famous by Sophia Loren, Comes to SF Opera

Posted By on Thu, Jun 4, 2015 at 8:00 AM

Nicola Luisotti, Marco Tutino, Francesca Zambello, David Gockley. - SCOTT WALL/SAN FRANCISCO OPERA
  • Scott Wall/San Francisco Opera
  • Nicola Luisotti, Marco Tutino, Francesca Zambello, David Gockley.

Vittorio De Sica made Alberto Moravia’s anti-fascist novel Two Women (La Ciociara) into a film with Sophia Loren in the role that won her an Academy Award in 1962 and made her a star. When acclaimed Italian composer Marco Tutino came up with the idea of an opera based on the piece, he knew exactly who he wanted to play the role of Cesira, the widow who flees Rome with her daughter in World War II, trying to find safety in the mountains – Anna Caterina Antonacci.

“She is unique. You can’t have two Anna Caterinas,” he said. “She is so particular for her voice, but above all for her personality.”

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Video of the Day: S.F. Opera Opens Its 90th Season with Rigoletto

Posted By on Thu, Sep 6, 2012 at 8:30 AM

  • Terrence McCarthy

When Verdi's Rigoletto debuted in 1851, censors demanded changes. The libretto, based on Victor Hugo's long-banned play The King Amuses Himself, now begins with the shameless Duke of Mantua (a thinly veiled Francis I of France) and his hunchback jester, Rigoletto, who serves as the king's procurer, even while protecting his own beautiful daughter. Of course, the story ends in suicide and despair -- it is an opera -- but this classic has drawn fresh awareness of late.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Bizet's Carmen at SF Opera Is Strangely Lifeless

Posted By on Mon, Nov 21, 2011 at 10:40 AM

  • Cory Weaver

Georges Bizet's 1875 Carmen is among the most frequently staged operas in the standard repertoire, a testament to the work's accessibility and enduring popularity with audiences. Yet, paradoxically, its very ubiquity may operate at cross-purposes with its appeal -- given that the opera is performed so often, and given that its distinctive music has been appropriated by countless films, commercials, cartoons, and every third figure skater in the Winter Olympics, this reviewer was not exactly counting the days until she could schlep over to the opera house for more of the same.

It's essential that productions of Carmen find ways to remain fresh, but Sunday's performance had the perfunctory feel of a late-September baseball game between two cellar-dwelling teams that are only still playing because the schedule dictates that they must.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

SF Opera Adds Visual Wit to Extraordinary Rendition of Handel's Xerxes

Posted By on Mon, Nov 14, 2011 at 9:30 AM

Susan Graham as Xerxes and David Daniels as Arsamenes - CORY WEAVER
  • Cory Weaver
  • Susan Graham as Xerxes and David Daniels as Arsamenes

Aspiring chefs take note: Opera was fusion before fusion was cool. Consider Puccini's La Fanciulla del West, an early 20th-century Italian's take on Gold Rush-era California; or Mozart's Don Giovanni, in which an Austrian composer and an Italian librettist deal with the legend of a Spanish libertine. Usually, it's counterproductive to dwell too much on these improbable discrepancies. Until, that is, a production like SF Opera's Xerxes comes along and insists on them -- to superlative effect.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Big Production Writ Small: SF Parlor Opera Takes On Carlisle Floyd's Susannah

Posted By on Wed, Nov 9, 2011 at 1:00 PM


By picking Carlisle Floyd's Susannah for its eighth production, San Francisco Parlor Opera has cunningly rendered moot your last excuse for not checking out its consistently terrific shows. The company has always performed its chosen operas in their original languages, lack of subtitles be damned -- not that it's necessary to be a polyglot to appreciate the artistry and drama that Parlor Opera packs into its micro-scale productions.

But Floyd hails from South Carolina, and his dark tale of repression and prejudice plays out -- in English -- in the fictitious town of New Hope Valley, Tenn. Company co-founders Patricia Urbano and Cole Grissom bring their talents to the leading roles at the Zellerbach House, and the pair proves no less engaging when we can understand what they're saying. Last weekend the cast managed to shine despite wet weather (read the review here) so if there's no rain for the final two performances we can expect even more.

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Wet Weather Can't Drown SF Parlor Opera's Outdoor Production of Susannah

Posted By on Mon, Nov 7, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Roy Patten Jr. as Little Bat McLean Patricia Urbano as Susannah Polk in Susannah. - SF PARLOR OPERA
  • SF Parlor Opera
  • Roy Patten Jr. as Little Bat McLean Patricia Urbano as Susannah Polk in Susannah.

George Carlin famously noted that the differences between football and baseball offer telling insights about culture and character. "Football is played in any kind of weather," he observed. "Rain, snow, sleet, hail, fog ... can't see the game, don't know if there is a game going on; mud on the field ... the struggle will continue!" By contrast, "In baseball if it rains, we don't go out to play. 'I can't go out! It's raining out!'" With Saturday night's opening performance of Susannah at the Zellerbach House, SF Parlor Opera proved itself to be a fine-arts outfit that legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi would approve of.

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Monday, October 24, 2011

John Malkovich Creeps Us Out as Serial Killer in The Infernal Comedy

Posted By on Mon, Oct 24, 2011 at 12:00 PM


Jack Unterweger -- the Vienna Strangler -- had movie-star charm and talent that fooled the entertainment industry and law enforcement for years. He became a media darling from within prison, was granted a pardon, then had a brief TV journalism career before launching another killing spree and being caught. This real-life character seems perfect for John Malkovich -- and the razor-sharp actor got applause and even laughs embodying this darkly fascinating man Friday night in Berkeley in The Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a Serial Killer. His performance was the strong point of a production that failed to hold the audience for its duration.

Currently on a world tour, The Infernal Comedy's billing is gnarly, combining elements of opera, theater, and some psychotic motivational seminar from beyond the grave. In the one-night performance at Zellerbach Hall, Malkovich was backed up by the Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra and two world-class sopranos, plus Dante-style allusions to heaven, hell, and points in between.

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Monday, October 17, 2011

SF Opera Breathes Dark and Lusty Life into 200-Year-Old Don Giovanni

Posted By on Mon, Oct 17, 2011 at 10:30 AM

Lucas Meachem is on fire in the title role of Don Giovanni. - CORY WEAVER
  • Cory Weaver
  • Lucas Meachem is on fire in the title role of Don Giovanni.

Within the past three years, local audiences have had the opportunity to experience productions of Mozart's Don Giovanni on a small scale (SF Parlor Opera), a medium one (SF Lyric Opera), and now large (SF Opera). On one hand, this crop of recent stagings reflects the work's status as the quintessential operatic warhorse. But on the other, its appeal to such varied companies suggests that Mozart's 1787 masterpiece is ever conducive to fresh interpretation. Happily, the visually compelling, dramatically alive production that debuted at SF Opera on Saturday night proved that even after more than 200 years and untold performances, it's still possible to offer vital new takes on the Don.

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Monday, September 26, 2011

SF Opera Makes Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia Beautiful Where More Darkness Is Needed

Posted By on Mon, Sep 26, 2011 at 11:00 AM

Renée Fleming (Lucrezia Borgia) and Michael Fabiano (Gennaro) - CORY WEAVER
  • Cory Weaver
  • Renée Fleming (Lucrezia Borgia) and Michael Fabiano (Gennaro)

Lucrezia Borgia, by Gaetano Donizetti

@War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness (at Grove)

Thought experiment: Picture Edward Hopper's Nighthawks done up in sunny springtime pastels. Now imagine Lady Macbeth pausing midsleepwalk to reel off a tender rendition of "The Rainbow Connection." If either of these visions left you moved rather than bemused, you may enjoy SF Opera's first presentation of Gaetano Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia more unreservedly than we did.

The current production, designed and directed by John Pascoe, illustrates the degree to which a successful opera depends on more than just splendid singing. (And the vocal performances, from megastar soprano Renée Fleming on down through the cast's firmament, were irreproachable -- more on those in a bit). Like Donizetti's other works, Borgia exemplifies the style of opera known as bel canto -- literally, "beautiful song" or "beautiful singing" -- which features intricate melodies and requires performers to execute a dazzling assortment of vocal embellishments and flourishes. While bel canto opera is by no means restricted to the telling of beautiful stories, an odd disjunction between tone and content undermined the impact of Friday's premiere.

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  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"