Opera Parallèle (OP) General and Artistic Director Nicole Paiement today announced the repertoire, cast and creative teams for the 2021-2022 season for the company’s 12th anniversary. The nationally acclaimed company will premiere of a newly orchestrated version of Harriet’s Spirit by acclaimed jazz artist Marcus Shelby; the first on the west coast of Sophia’s Forest by Lembit Beecher; and Beauty and the Beast by Philip Glass, which distinguishes OP as the only American company to have presented the entire trilogy of Glass’s operas in homage to Jean Cocteau.
Paiement said, “In the spirit of Opera Parallel’s commitment to directing relevant stories, we are excited to present this season, stories that celebrate human rights heroine Harriet Tubman with Harriet’s Spirit; the power of memories as catharsis and the lasting effects of immigration with Sophia’s Forest; and the importance of seeing beyond the eyes with the opera by Philip Glass based on Beauty and the Beast by Jean Cocteau. This exhilarating repertoire celebrates the power of transformation and new beginnings. Join us as we travel from the Bayview Opera House to Grace Cathedral and finally SFJAZZ to celebrate Glass’s 85th birthday. “
Harriet’s Spirit, with music by jazz bassist Marcus Shelby and libretto by Roma Olvera, is a one-act opera about the story of a young girl’s courage and empowerment, inspired by her hero, the famous abolitionist of 19th century Harriet Tubman. Opera Parallèle will present three performances of Harriet’s Spirit on November 13 and 14 in collaboration with San Francisco’s historic Bayview Opera House, the cultural center of the city’s African-American arts and culture district.
The cast will include jazz soprano Tiffany Austin as Harriet Tubman, soprano Christabel Nunoo as Modesty, baritone Bradley Kynard as Montgomery and backing vocals “Say Nothing” and “Do Nothing” sung by the San Francisco Girls Chorus, conducted by Valérie Sainte-Agathe. Nicole Paiement will direct and award-winning actor and director L. Peter Callender will direct this premiere.
The genesis of this family opera began in 2018 when Opera Parallèle presented a production workshop at the Complex of African-American Arts and Culture. Since then, the work has been revised and now includes a new orchestration for 10 musicians (flute, oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, strings and percussion).
Harriet’s Spirit is the latest in a series of children’s operas commissioned by Opera Parallèle as part of the company’s “Hands-on-Opera” community engagement program. All of these new works were created by BIPOC artists primarily to address the interests and concerns of Bay Area youth from African American, Latin American and other underserved communities. To date, OP has performed world premieres of My Head is Full of Colors, Amazing Grace, Xochitl and the Flowers (2016 & 2019) by Chris Pratorius Gómez, and the original studio production of Harriet’s Spirit.
Shelby is a composer, bassist, and educator whose work focuses on the history, present, and future of African American lives, social movements, and music education. Currently, Shelby is Artist in Residence at the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival and was Resident Artistic Director of the San Francisco Jazz Festival 2019-2020. In 2020, he was appointed the new artistic director of the Healdsburg Jazz Festival, where he has been artist in residence for more than 10 years. Harriet’s Spirit is Shelby’s first opera.
Roma Olvera contributes her third libretto to OP’s “Hands-on-Opera” program for young people, following on from Amazing Grace and Xochitl and the Flowers. Olvera worked as Director of Educational Programs for Opera Parallèle, where she helped develop a three-tier community engagement program that commissioned new works for children and families. Olvera has also developed original programs to involve local communities in contemporary opera productions on the main stage. Born in Mexico City, Olvera is currently the Music Director of Woodland School in Portola Valley.
THE FOREST OF SOPHIA
To music by Lembit Beecher and libretto by Hannah Moscovitch, Opera Parallèle will present four performances of Sophia’s Forest from February 24 to 26 at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.
One-act opera, Sophia’s Forest tells the story of a young girl, Sophia, who recently immigrated to the United States, after surviving a traumatic journey through the chaos of a civil war in her homeland. During the one-act opera, we see Sophia as an adult remembering her childhood, as a recent nine-year-old immigrant to the United States, and in flashback a few years earlier, as child fleeing his homeland with her. mother, Anna, and sister, Emma.
Sophia’s Forest is an exploration of both the lasting effects on families of the immigrant experience and the ways in which children use their imaginations to cope with trauma. These themes are part of the family traditions of the librettist and composer: Moscovitch’s great-grandparents escaped a wave of massacres in Eastern Europe to find their way to Canada while Beecher’s grandmother and his then two-year-old mother fled Estonia during World War II, after surviving Nazi and Soviet occupations of their country.
Sophia’s Forest was presented in an exploratory first production at Drexel University Black Box Theater in Philadelphia in 2017, directed and directed by the creative team of OP Nicole Paiement and Brian Staufenbiel, supported by the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage. The opera was critically acclaimed by David Patrick Stearns, The Philadelphia Inquirer: “An introspective study of immigrant children, the opera was full of vocal lines reflecting psychological depths but also effects of electronic music which added considerably to the dreamlike atmosphere. “
A central part of the production consists of nine electronically controlled sound sculptures placed on the stage. These were built in collaboration with Drexel University’s ExCITe Center, an interdisciplinary center for research and innovation that combines the arts and engineering. The sound sculptures featured in Sophia’s Forest are part of the opera’s backdrop and function as an instrumental choir, mingling with the string quartet and percussion to create the play’s fantastical and dreamlike musical landscape.
The fully completed Opera Parallel de la Forêt de Sophia production features soprano Maggie Finnegan as Sophia; mezzo-soprano Kindra Scharich as Anna; baritone Bradley Kynard as Wes; young sopranos Virginia Ko and Samantha Fung-Lee as Emma; and actor Charlotte Fanvu as Young Sophia. The creative team is led by Nicole Paiement, conductor; Brian Staufenbiel, concept and director; Jessica Bejarano, assistant chef; Mariseley Cortés Fonseca, costume designer; Jon Altemus, scenographer; and Aaron Curry, lighting designer.
The musical score will be performed by the Del Sol Quartet, percussion by Divesh Karamchandani and electronic Sound Sculpture by Lembit Beecher.
THE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
The season will end with Philip Glass’s opera Beauty and the Beast based on the epic 1946 romantic fantasy film by French poet and filmmaker Jean Cocteau. This new surrealist interpretation of a timeless tale, mixing opera and film live on stage will be presented on July 15, 16 and 17 in collaboration with SFJAZZ. These performances will be presented on the occasion of the composer’s 85th birthday.
Once upon a time, in a world of magic and wonder, the true love of a beautiful girl finally dispelled the torments of a wild but gentle-hearted beast. Jean Cocteau’s sublime adaptation of Mme. Leprince de Beaumont’s fairytale masterpiece is a landmark of cinematic fantasy, with unforgettable poignant performances by Jean Marais and Josette Day. This timeless icon of cinematic wonder served as the inspiration for Philip Glass’s opera of the same name in 1994.
In July 2022, Opera Parallèle will present Glass’ Beauty and the Beast in partnership with SFJAZZ, and is the first company authorized to perform this work with the film outside of The Philip Glass Ensemble. This opera is the second in a trilogy of Glass works intended to pay homage to Cocteau. With this production, Opéra Parallèle will complete the performances of the three operas, having performed Orphée in 2011 and Les Enfants Terribles in 2017.
For this revolutionary fusion of opera and cinema, Glass has removed the soundtrack to incorporate his own music, which will be played live with the film. The new score incorporates the original spoken dialogue, now sung to match the onscreen action. By transforming the characters of the Beast and Beauty from childish figures to complex adult characters living in a surreal dreamlike world, Cocteau transforms the tale into a dreamlike vision of death and desire, while exploring themes that continue to resonate. today – identity, compassion and inner beauty.
Glass’s initial concept was for the opera to be performed by four singers taking on several characters with a small instrumental ensemble while the film is screened in the background. With the exclusive permission of Philip Glass, the Philip Glass Ensemble and the Domaine Cocteau, Opera Parallèle has been authorized to develop a new hybrid approach for this production. This new interpretation will blur the boundaries of cinema and opera even further to create a transformed musical theater – honoring two of the great artistic minds of modern times, Cocteau and Glass.
The cast of Opera Parallèle features Vanessa Becerra in her San Francisco opera debut as La Belle; Hadleigh Adams as The Beast / Avenant / The Officer; Anders Fröhlich as Le Père / Ludovic / L’Usurier; and Shawnette Sulker as Félicie / Adélaïde.
The creative team includes Nicole Paiement, conductor; Brian Staufenbiel, director and concept; David Murakami, media designer; Jessica Bejarano, assistant chef; Yayoi Kambara, assistant director & choreographer; Alina Bokovikova, costume designer; Sophia Smith, hair and makeup stylist; and Mextly Couzin, lighting designer.
In addition to the live performances, two Opera Parallèle productions are available on digital pay-per-view / on-demand platforms. The 2021 production of Joby Talbot and Gene Scheer’s Everest – A Graphic Novel Opera is offered exclusively on thedallasopera.TV until January 16, 2022. Tickets available at operaparallele.org/everest. OP 2018 co-production with Philip Glass ‘Days and Nights Festival’ In the Penal Colony is available at https://vimeo.com/ondemand/penalcolony.
The Bullhorn: Amplifying Unheard Voices is Opera Parallel’s one-year community engagement activities program created in partnership with The Transgender District, California College of Arts, San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus and Ruth’s Table. The program aims to be a “bullhorn” for the community and exemplifies the company’s commitment to amplifying untold stories.
Major support for Opera Parallèle is provided by Donna Dubinsky & Len Shustek, Bob Ellis, Gordon P. Getty, Stephen & Diane Heiman, Paul L. King and Denise Young.
Major institutional and corporate support is provided by Adobe, JW & HM Goodman Family Foundation, Horizons Foundation, The Lemala Fund, Sam Mazza Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, City & County of San Francisco Grants for the Arts and The Shenson Foundation.
The Bullhorn: Amplifying Unheard Voices is funded by a Civic Practice Grant from OPERA America’s Opera Fund.
For more information on Opera Parallèle, visit www.operaparallele.org.