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Hey Bay Area! What's with all the Contemporary Opera in February?

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Scene from Ted Hearne's oratorio ‘The Source’. (Photo: Noah Stern Weber)

There are so many contemporary operas happening in the Bay Area in February, it looks like we might have an all-out regional festival on our hands.

While this operatic flowering is more or less a happy coincidence, the fact that the San Francisco Opera (SF Opera) isn’t in season right now means that smaller companies can attract singers, directors, and musicians to work on innovative repertoire in more intimate spaces.

Here is the lowdown on a few upcoming productions.

Nikki Einfeld as the Controller in Opera Parallele's 2017 production of ‘Flight’.
Nikki Einfeld as the Controller in Opera Parallele’s 2017 production of ‘Flight.’ (Photo: Steve DiBartolomeo/Westside Studio Images)

Feb. 10–12: Opera Parallèle presents Flight at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco

British composer Jonathan Dove’s timely 1998 work tells the true story of Iranian refugee Mehran Karimi Nasseri who lived at Charles de Gaulle airport for almost 18 years. Nasseri was unable to exit the French airport because he lacked documentation — and, being a stateless person, he had no country of origin to return to, either.


Opera Parallèle’s take on Dove’s darkly comic opera stars up-and-coming American countertenor Tai Oney, who goes on to sing in Berlin and Aix-en-Provence later this year. Oney shares the stage in this production with a slew of talented, former SF Opera apprentice singers such as Nikki Einfeld and Eugene Brancoveanu, as well as many local opera professionals such as Catherine Cook and Philip Skinner.

“When we first programmed Flight for this season, we knew the topic of international refugees was important,” says Opera Parallèle’s artistic director, founder and conductor Nicole Paiement. “But we had no idea how sharp the political focus on immigration would become.”

Colin Ramsey (Father Palmer) and Kirk Dougherty (Nikolaus Sprink) in Opera San Jose's ‘Silent Night’.
Colin Ramsey (Father Palmer) and Kirk Dougherty (Nikolaus Sprink) in Opera San Jose’s ‘Silent Night.’ (Photo: Chris Ayers)

Feb. 11–26: Opera San José presents Silent Night at the California Theatre, San Jose

Also dealing with real-life events, is Kevin Puts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning opera concerns the World War I Christmas truce between Scottish, French and German soldiers. Depicting the horrors of war, the piece has been wildly successful, taken up by nearly a dozen opera companies since the 2011 premiere at Minnesota Opera.

Opera San José presents the west coast premiere of Silent Night in a new production designed by Steven Kemp, a finalist at this year’s World Stage Design in Taipei for his work on a production of Falstaff. The cast includes soprano Julie Adams, a San Francisco Conservatory of Music alum who won the prestigious Met auditions and just finished a two-year stint as an apprentice at SF Opera.

Looming video projections in Ted Hearne's ‘The Source’.
Looming video projections in Ted Hearne’s ‘The Source.’ (Photo: Noah Stern Weber)

Feb. 24–Mar. 3: SF Opera Lab presents The Source at the Taube Atrium Theater, San Francisco

The 30-something, Los Angeles-based composer Ted Hearne’s body of work is overtly political, covering such topics as Hurricane Katrina and Edward Said. SF Opera Lab, the experimental arm of SF Opera, opens its second season with Hearne’s oratorio about Chelsea Manning and Wikileaks. The piece made a huge splash at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2014 and at Los Angeles Opera last year.

The 75-minute, 12-movement piece for four singers and seven instrumentalists sets Manning’s own words and other primary source documents to music. Video projections from director Jim Findlay and designer Daniel Fish loom on four screens around the audience. Hearne incorporates many different modalities in this abstract work, using real-time voice processing and evoking the Bach Passions.

Chelsea Hollow, Kristen Princiotta, Shawnette Sulker, and Kindra Scharich in ‘Why I Live at the P.O.’ by Stephen Eddins and Michael O'Brien, part of Snapshot Program 1.
Chelsea Hollow, Kristen Princiotta, Shawnette Sulker, and Kindra Scharich in ‘Why I Live at the P.O.’ by Stephen Eddins and Michael O’Brien, part of Snapshot Program 1. (Photo: West Edge Opera)

Feb. 25–26: West Edge Opera presents Snapshot Program 2 at the David Brower Center, Berkeley (Feb. 25) and the Bayview Opera House, San Francisco (Feb. 26)

Building on its impressive festival season at Oakland’s abandoned train station last summer, West Edge Opera just launched Snapshot — a new program highlighting the work of contemporary Northern Californian composers. The series features excerpts from as-yet-to-be-produced works by composers like Carla Lucero and Linda Bouchard, brought to life by half a dozen solo vocalists and the musicians of the Earplay new music ensemble.

The February program includes a work about Helen Keller, an operatic version of E. M. Foster’s novel Howard’s End, a piece that sets text from Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, and a comedic parody of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.

The program provides an opportunity to observe operas at the “workshop” stage of the production process. It also includes performances by local talent such as soprano Amy Foote (seen in the title role of West Edge’s The Cunning Little Vixen last season) and baritone Daniel Cilli (who had his SF Opera premiere in Carmen last year, but has appeared at every regional house around here) in a cozy setting.

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