A scene from Calixto Bieito's production of Carmen. Photo: San Francisco Opera/A.Bofill
A scene from Calixto Bieito's production of Carmen. (Photo: San Francisco Opera/A.Bofill)

Why Travel? Experience New Worlds This Summer Through These Classical Voices

Why Travel? Experience New Worlds This Summer Through These Classical Voices

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While summer evokes images of relaxing at the beach or reading by the pool, its also a great time to try something new or go on an adventure, whether it is a romantic fling or a backpacking trip.


For those of us wanting to escape the June gloom of the Bay Area without the hassle of long TSA lines, the classical vocal music scene is heating things up with bold takes on timeless stories. Here are five sultry and provocative productions you won't want to miss.

SF Opera's Carmen
Adam Diegel (Don José) in Carmen. (Photo: San Francisco Opera/Alastair Muir)

SF Opera's Carmen

War Memorial Opera House
May 27 - July 3

Bizet's scandalous tale of seduction, obsession, and murder gets a contemporary re-staging from Calixto Bieito that comes with an advisory for "parental discretion." Inspired by the area of Ceuta — an exclave of Spain in Africa that borders Morocco — the production features two young casts that should bring the intensity to a fever pitch and be cinematically convincing. English National Opera production is Bieito's American premiere, so it is no surprise the July 2 performance is being simulcast live to AT&T Park; but it should also be interesting to see how Americans react, as Bieito is known for his liberal use of violence and nudity.

Soprano Julia Bullock
Soprano Julia Bullock performs at Ojai at Berkeley. (Photo: Cal Performances/Christian Steiner)

Cal Performances' La Passion de Simone and La Passion de Josephine Baker: A Portrait

UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Playhouse
June 16 and 18

Soprano Julia Bullock portrays radical philosopher Simone Weil and alluring performer Josephine Baker, both strong ladies in their own right, in two chamber vocal pieces accompanied by the International Contemporary Ensemble. Part of Ojai at Berkeley, this year's curator is opera director Peter Sellars, who has chosen the theme of powerful women for 2016's programming. The female vision of the festival extends farther than simply subject matter: La Passion de Simone was composed by the most prominent woman opera composer of our day, Kaija Saariaho, and the text of La Passion de Josephine Baker: A Portrait is from poet Claudia Rankine.

Merola Opera's Transformations
Snow White (Ani Maldjian) in the Merola Opera Program's 2006 production of Conrad Susa’s Transformations. (Photo: Merola Opera Program/Kristen Loken)

Merola Opera Program's Transformations

San Francisco Conservatory of Music
July 21 and 23

Merola, the summer opera training program associated with San Francisco Opera, is presenting Conrad Susa's Transformations as one of two fully-staged works this year. Based on Anne Sexton's collection of confessional poetry of the same name, the piece is set in a mental hospital. The poems are dark re-tellings of Grimm's fairy tales that deal with madness, desire, cannibalism and incest.

Oakland 16th Street Station
Oakland's 16th Street Station, abandoned in 1994, will host West Edge Opera's 2016 Festival. (Photo: West Edge Opera)

West Edge Opera's Powder Her Face

16th Street Station, Oakland
July 31 to Aug. 13

Following the resounding success of last year's festival, West Edge Opera presents the whole 2016 season at the abandoned train station in West Oakland. The most daring offering of the three operas is certainly British composer Thomas Adès' Powder Her Face, which follows the sexual exploits of Margaret Campbell, the so-called "Dirty" Duchess of Argyll, whose divorce proceedings in 1963 caused a huge scandal. The opera is best known for a wordless depiction of fellatio, the scene based on salacious photographs the Duke of Argyll produced as evidence of infidelity in the divorce case.

Festival Opera Abduction from the Seraglio 2016
Brian Cheney plays a character resembling Captain Kirk from "Star Trek" in Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio. (Photo: Pacific Opera Project/Martha Benedict)

Festival Opera's Abduction from the Seraglio

Valley Center for the Performing Arts, Oakland
Aug. 5 to 9

Nerds rejoice! Walnut Creek-based Festival Opera is performing Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio with a twist, setting it in space instead of a harem. This collaboration with Oakland Symphony is a re-imagining of the Mozart Singspiel as a parody of the original Star Trek and should prove quite fun. The libretto has been translated into English, the main characters corresponding to Captain Kirk and Mister Spock, and so forth. The possibilities as far as the sexy alien ladies of Star Trek should work well, given the orientalist slant of the Mozart plot.