Tag Archives: War Memorial Opera House


The San Francisco Ballet is a ballet lover’s dream: a company of gorgeous dancers who are precise, elegant, and bursting with energy and style. This season’s Program 2, CLASSICAL (RE)VISION offers SFB’s devoted audience a selection of five ballets.

On February 16, the program included Bespoke, choreography by Stanley Welch, music of Johann Sebastian Bach; Pas de Deux from After the Rain, choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, music of Arvo Part; Pas de Deux from Swan Lake, choreography by David Dawson, music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky; Concerto Grosso, choreography by Helgi Tomasson, music by Francesco Geminiani after Corelli; and Sandpaper Ballet, choreography by Mark Morris, music of Leroy Anderson. The middle three were “Director’s Choice,” and can change places with other dances through the run of the program, February 11-22.

Bespoke is a moving showcase for twelve dancers: five Principals, five Soloists, and two from the Corps de Ballet. The two Corps members, Alexandre Cagnat and Ellen Rose Hummel, show that SFB has its future insured with outstanding artists. This is a wonderful ballet in its musicality, design, and restrained but powerful emotion. Not having read the program note before seeing the performance, this audience member missed an important layer of the dance. However, the dance works on its own without explanation. Stanley Welch uses the technical heart of ballet to create art that can speak to everyone, even those who have never stepped inside a studio. He builds the dance from the basic positions and movements all ballet students and dancers practice around the world. Seeing these movements performed exquisitely to each angle, forward and backward, jumping and spinning makes the dance lover’s breath stop for a second. It is familiar and unknown. The dancers accelerate their movements, join together, exit the stage and return. Something is happening to them. That something is time. It happens to everyone. It happens without our permission. It happens to dancers so soon, too soon. As it turned out, those long, straight arms I admired were meant to suggest a clock. Some movements were there to suggest life scurrying past our eyes as a dancer flies from our visual and emotional connection to him. At the end of this ballet, the dancers sink into the stage floor two by two. Two men together, two women together, males and females together. As the final couple sinks to the floor, the light closes over the rest of the stage. Only one spotlight captures the pained expression of the last dancer down. It is a wonderful ballet, beautifully danced.

Helgi Tomasson, Artistic Director of SFB, created Concerto Grosso in 2003 for the SF Ballet’s 70th Anniversary. It is terrific; brilliantly performed and exciting to watch. Five fabulous men danced at the height of their power and technical achievement. Once again, two members of the Corps showed that SFB has, in baseball terms, a very deep bench. All five danced at a great level of artistry. They included Lucas Erni, Corps; Max Cauthorn, Soloist; Benjamin Freemantle, Principal; MingXuan Wang, Corps; Lonnie Weeks, Soloist. This ballet sends shooting stars across the War Memorial Opera House stage. Graceful, lyrical, explosive, and soaring, the dancers showed all the virtuoso, versatile, thrilling dancing of San Francisco Ballet’s stellar male dancers.

See the San Francisco Ballet’s Program 2, now through February 22. San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Avenue, SF. Contact: 415/865-2000 and www.sfballet.org






SF Opera’s Comic Triumph: Don Pasquale

DonPasquale  San Francisco Opera presented Gaetano Donizeti’s delightful opera buffa, Don Pasquale, September 28–October 15 at The War Memorial Opera House. It was tremendous fun. The music is beautiful and funny. The four leads were splendid. It was a night to cheer Donizetti’s brilliance and the accomplishments of singers, conductor, orchestra, chorus, directors and designers whose work combined to create complete theater.

DonizettiPremiered in 1843, the libretto, also written by Donzetti, puts stock figures in predictable actions with and against each other, but the plot twists in ingenious ways. Opera buffa is the opposite of opera seria, the serious dramas.There is a wealthy man in his 70s. His nephew, Ernesto, refuses to marry the wealthy woman his uncle selected for him; Ernesto loves a poor girl, Norina. The uncle is tired of supporting him, disowns him, and decides to marry a young woman. His doctor and alleged friend, Malatesta, takes Ernesto’s side and plots with Ernesto’s true love. She will present herself as sweet, innocent Sofronia, marry Don Pasquale, then make him demand a divorce to escape her domineering behavior and immense expenses.  Norina will be able to marry Ernesto with Don Pasquale’s blessing and his money.

ErnestoBrownleeIn this production created by Director Laurent Pelly, the nephew is a spoiled, lazy boy sponging off his rich uncle, not the pure rebel against authority he could have been. Norina also is something more and less than her character might have been in the commedia dell’arte from which opera buffa developed. She is a schemer who might be motivated primarily by love but might not. Even Malatesta, presented as the friend of both Don Pasquale and Ernesto seems to be motivated not only by friendship but also a pleasure in playing cruel games.

TransformFor this viewer, it was easy to feel sorry for Don Pasquale who put on a new suit and a toupee to meet his bride. He looked ridiculous but was so happy. The lesson, the closing song says, is that old men should not try to marry. And yet, though the others  made him a fool and he sees that he acted the fool on his own, there was a charming liveliness in his hopes.

NorinaDon   Bass Baritone Maurizio Muraro as Don Pasquale was amazing. His singing was great, and his physical comedy timing perfect. His expressions and actions were very, very funny. His ability to sing the rapid fire patter songs of Don Pasquale was astonishing; every note and syllable was clear and understandable, if one’s brain could keep up. His actions when he transformed himself into what he thought would attract the young woman were funny, his anger at Sofronia’s expenditures was funny, but over all, it was touching to see him try to cope with the abuse dished out by this angel turned devil.

LBrownlee   Lawrence Brownlee, internationally acclaimed tenor, made his SF Opera debut as Ernesto. He was a lout, a lover, a disappointed suitor, and a house guest tossed out of the house. He played it all with fantastic aplomb always buoyed by his lovely lyric tenor voice. He was so romantic perched on the roof of his uncle’s house, longing for Norina, and so funny packing a closetful of shirts and then trying to figure out how to carry all his suitcases.

STOBER_Heidi-SDirector Pelly’s idea for the production was inspired by Italian movies from the 1950s.  When the audience first sees Heidi Stober as Norina, she is in a black slip, leaning against the wall of her squalid room, and admiring a center-fold. Her clothes are piled on the floor. She has a cigarette. This image of the character does not appear again, but reveals some tawdry tendencies behind  Sofronia. Ms Stober’s strong, dramatic voice made her dominance of the Don and plotting with Malatesta believable. Think ahead to a sequel in which Ernesto, not used to fending for himself, finds he’s married someone better at bossing him around than his uncle had been.

CastDonPBaritone Lucas Meachem has a long relationship with the SF Opera. He was a Merola and an Adler Fellow and has sung numerous roles. It was exciting to see him in a different setting fulfilling the demands of comedy with distinction.

MeachemMuraroHis energetic patter duets with Muraro were a pleasure.  Malatesta’s double crossing drove the story ahead effortlessly. On October 4 and 7 the role was played by Edward Nelson, an Adler Fellow. Bojan Knezevic added comic confusion in a cameo role as the Notary who pretended to marry the Don and Norina. The SF Opera Chorus marched onstage as an army of gossipy servants hired by Sofronia. The SF Opera Orchestra was conducted by Giuseppe Finzi. From the beginning of the Overture, it was clear we were in for something extraordinary. Donizetti’s music represented all of the actions and characters. There was a theme which danced and limped that sounded like Don Pasquale’s happiness and hesitations. Theater wisdom says, “Tragedy is easy; comedy is hard.” Impossible to imagine if Donizetti found writing Lucia di Lammermoor easy, but the all star cast of this Don Pasquale acted and sang a comic triumph.

Pictures from top: Maurizio Muraro as Don Pasquale; Donizetti; Lawrence Brownlee as Ernesto; M. Muraro, Don Pasquale transformed; Heidi Stober as Norina/Sofronia intimidates Don Pasquale; H. Stober; Lucas Meachem, far left; L. Meachem & M. Muraro; all photos except picture of Donizetti ©CoreyWeaver/San Francisco Opera