Monday, August 12, 2013

The Glory of Opera: Creativity, Verve, Inspiration and Passionate Performances

San Francisco Opera Opens Its Compelling Fall Season

The 2013–14 Season opens September 6 with Robert Carsen’s acclaimed production of Boito’s Mephistofele 

Highlights of the Fall 2013 Season include an exciting new ‘Dolores Clairborne’ and a riveting ‘Mephistofele’.  A new production of ‘The Flying Dutchman’ will fly into town as well as outstanding presentations of ‘Requiem’ and ‘The Barber of Seville’. 

I know you’ll want to see them all. I’ll see you there. 


The San Francisco Opera is a precious jewel of the cultural life of San Francisco. It’s a venerable and highly admired nine-decade old company, showcasing leading opera singers from around the world. This coming season promises to be outstanding.

I’ve written before about my lifelong love of opera. I’m looking forward—avidly—to the upcoming fall season of the San Francisco Opera.

The opera and the symphony shape fall and winter nights for me and provide uplifting, absorbing, inspiring and thrilling moments of bliss from September through December.

This upcoming season is particularly crunchy—with re-imagined classics like ‘The Flying Dutchman’, the dramatic ‘Mephistofele’ and (I’m so intrigued) a new opera based on Stephen King’s ‘Dolores Claiborne’ (yes, Kathy Bates). A collision of classics—with neoclassics. 


The season will be officially launched Friday, September 6, with a gala performance of Arrigo Boito’s Mephistofele, a lyrical retelling of Goethe’s Faust legend, conducted by San Francisco Opera Music Director Nicola Luisotti and featuring the Company’s acclaimed Robert Carsen production. All performances include the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus at the historic War Memorial Opera House. 

David Gockley

San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley commented, “We have a good mix of repertory for the coming season. I’m especially pleased that we will have the opportunity to offer debuts of a number of very important singers and designers. In addition to celebrating the bicentennials of Verdi and Wagner, we will also have the chance to present the world premiere of Tobias Picker and J. D. McClatchy’s adaptation of Stephen King’s thrilling story, Dolores Claiborne. If ever there was a Stephen King novel that had all the makings for the lyric stage, this is certainly the one.” 

Nicola Luisotti

Nicola Luisotti

San Francisco Opera Music Director Nicola Luisotti commented, “To open the new season with Boito’s Mephistofele, an opera beloved and championed by Verdi himself, means a lot to me as we celebrate the bicentennial season of Verdi. I’m honored to lead the Company’s recognition of Italy’s finest opera composer, Giuseppe Verdi with his final masterpiece Falstaff, set to a libretto by Boito, followed by his soul-stirring Requiem Mass, and later with the great romantic drama, La Traviata. I’m sure Maestro Verdi would be very pleased.” 

San Francisco's War Memorial Opera House

A Quick History of the San Francisco Opera Company

San Francisco Opera was founded by Gaetano Merola (1881–1953) and incorporated in 1923. The Company's first performance took place on September 26, 1923 (La Bohème, with Queena Mario and Giovanni Martinelli, conducted by Merola). 


The Allure of Opera: It's In My Blood

My lovely Mother was an opera singer—and I grew up attending operas of all kinds with my music-loving parents. I was surrounded by music, attended ballet performances of the Royal Ballet, my Mother’s live radio performances, choir practice, and often, music recitals.

I studied the piano for many years with a fantastic teacher called Maisie Kilkelly, an incredibly chic and exacting instructor. I studied the Royal College of Music curriculum. Loved it. Miss Kilkelly honored her romantic Irish ancestry by writing music notes in green Quink ink. 

Henry Matisse, Scenes from Family Life (1916)

I also studied music with George Boddington, a lovely man, a musicologist of great sensitivity and a charming nervous quiver, who was a dear friend of my Mother’s. When I was twelve he would let me arrange flowers (wonderfully swoon-worthy fragrant Regale white lilies in tall glass vases, and cumuli of great white hydrangeas in pewter urns) on stage before a piano recital of the Eroica Club. 

Henry Matisse, The Piano Lesson (1916)

Music is part of living and breathing for me. I’m typing this post for you and listening to BBC3 radio. Ravishing and expressive notes of the great Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto in D Minor spin vortices of delight. I see sound paintings and hear deep emotion as Peter Oundjian conducts the RSNO with deliriously beautiful playing by Russian pianist Nikolai Lugansky (young, genius). I listen to Rach Three over and over. A revelation. Music does that.

I love opera—which intensifies the experience of music with staging, the libretto, a chorus, the orchestra, and the highest levels of costume design, stage sets, choreography, intricate lighting. And as the final note fades, wild applause.

San Francisco's War Memorial Opera House 
San Francisco's War Memorial Opera House

Opening Night Celebrations – Friday, September 6, 2013

Opera Ball 2013: The Garden of Good and Evil  Presented by San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Opera Guild, the evening begins with an elegant pre-performance cocktail reception and sumptuous dinner (Dan MaCall/Lucas Shoemaker) followed by the season-opening performance of Boito’s Mefistofele and further celebrations.

A highlight of the City’s cultural and philanthropic season, Opera Ball 2013 is created by celebrity event designer Colin Cowie and raises funds to benefit San Francisco Opera and the Opera Guild’s education and community and school programs.

For tickets or more information about Opera Ball 2013, call (415) 565-3204. 

Bryn Terfel in Falstaff

The Barber of Seville

Greer Grimsley in The Flying Dutchman

Season highlights include:

World Premiere of Dolores Claiborne, a New Opera by Tobias Picker and J. D. McClatchy, Based on the Novel by Stephen King

New production premieres of:

• Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia and Wagner’s Der Fliegende Holländer

• Verdi Bicentennial Celebration led by Music Director Nicola Luisotti including Falstaff, Messa da Requiem and La Traviata

Giuseppe Verdi’s choral masterpiece, Messa da Requiem on Friday, October 25, 2013 featuring the combined orchestras and choruses of San Francisco Opera and Italy’s renowned Real Teatro di San Carlo of Naples. In celebration of the bicentennial of Verdi’s birth, this concert will be conducted by Nicola Luisotti and will feature four vocal soloists—soprano Leah Crocetto, mezzo-soprano Margaret Mezzacappa, tenor Michael Fabiano and bass Vitalij Kowaljow.

All performances feature the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus at the War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco. 

Dolora Zajick in Dolores Claiborne

Looking to the Future of Opera

Dolores Claiborne is David Gockley’s sixth commissioned work for San Francisco Opera since his appointment as company general director in 2006. Previous operas commissioned by Gockley include Appomattox (2007), The Bonesetter’s Daughter (2008), Heart of a Soldier (2011), and presentations of The Secret Garden (March 2013) and The Gospel of Mary Magdalene (June 2013).

San Francisco Opera confirmed plans to commission Italian composer Marco Tutino for a new work, La Ciociara (Two Women), based on 20th century Italian author Alberto Moravia’s novel of the same name, with a libretto by the composer and Fabio Ceresa, adapted from a script by Luca Rossi, by arrangement with Studio Legale Cau Morandi Minutillo Turtur. Moravia’s critically acclaimed 1958 work was quickly adapted in 1960 by noted Italian film producer Carlo Ponti into a film starring Sophia Loren. Sung in Italian, Tutino’s La Ciociara, will be conducted by Nicola Luisotti at the War Memorial Opera House in June 2015.

Thank You  
San Francisco Opera is sponsored, in part, by the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn, Franklin and Catherine Johnson, Mrs. Edmund W. Littlefield, Bernard and Barbro Osher, and Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem. San Francisco Opera is supported, in part, by a grant from Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund. Opening Weekend Grand Sponsor is Diane B. Wilsey.

CREDITS: All images courtesy of San Francisco Opera, and used here with express permission.

For information or tickets: or 
(415) 864-3330.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Matters of Taste: Celebrating the Season in California with a Delicious and Easy Summer Recipe from Alice B. Toklas

Season of Mellow Fruitfulness, Close Bosom-Friend of the Maturing Sun

It’s summer in California, and we are in the middle of an especially fragrant and delicious stone-fruit season. Cherries, peaches, plums, apricots, and nectarines and all of my favorites are ripe and juicy and tumbling into our local farmers’ markets.

So I’m taking a little detour from design and travel to offer you a delicious and surprising recipe. It's by Alice B. Toklas (no, it is not her famous Haschich Fudge…perhaps you have that already in your files).

And I’ve found a lovely poem about peaches—watch for that after the recipe.

Come with me for a delicious detour—and a feast of stone fruit photographs by the fantastically talented and stylish New York photographer Paulette Tavormina. 

Peaches & Morning Glories, After G.G. 2010

Tender and honey-flavored white peaches; delicate white nectarines; pale golden peaches grown in the Sierra foothills; and crimson plums from Santa Rosa, are all at their most juicy and seductive now.

I’ve added a recipe below from ‘The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook’ for you. As you know, San Francisco-born Alice was the companion of Gertrude Stein. Alice and her family used to live in a Victorian house overlooking Alta Plaza, a marvelous pyramid-shaped park in Pacific Heights, and a few minutes walk from where I live.

Alice B. Toklas, now a legendary figure in the art and literary worlds, was asked to write a cookbook, and it was a sensation when it was published. Among the many excellent recipes was one for Haschich Fudge (her spelling). I’m sure you have your own recipe, so no need to print hers.

In her book it’s listed as ‘Haschich Fudge’ and she adds a note ‘which anyone could whip up on a rainy day’. Worth noting: her recipe for fudge involves black peppercorns, nutmeg, cinnamon and coriander. 

Fruit Basket, After M.M.d.C. 2011

Yellow Cherries & Crab Apples, After G.G. 2010

Wild Raspberries, After G.G. 2013

Back to peaches:

Alice’s easy recipe for Peaches Glacées--

I think you’ll like it. Let me know.

I love the way Alice leaves much of this recipe up to your own creativity. Make it your way, be creative and have fun.

Alice B. Toklas’s Peaches Glacées

From ‘The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook’


Put 6 fine ripe peaches in hot water only long enough to peel.

Prepare a syrup of 1 cup of sugar and ¾ cut water.

Poach the whole peaches covered in the syrup over a low heat for 4 minutes.

Remove peaches and drain. Reduce the syrup and when it is quite thick, after three minutes further cooking, pout over peaches. Baste. See that it adheres. When cold, place peaches stem side down on a serving platter in refrigerator for at least two hours.

Prepare of purée of 1 lb fresh ripe strawberries, ¼ cup icing sugar, and add 2 tablespoons of best brandy and 1 cup whipped cream in blender. Put in refrigerator for two hours.

Before serving, pour purée over peaches.

Enjoy it. Perfect for a summer evening outdoors in the garden or on the terrace, or the beach. A scoop of strawberry or lavender ice-cream could be a lovely addition. And I hope, you might experience the deliciousness of the peaches as the ‘euphoria and ecstatic reveries’ Alice B. Toklas said she experienced from her ‘Haschich Fudge’. 

Pears 2008

Red Cherries & Plums, After G.G. 2011

In honor of the season—and for inspiration—I found this poem by an American poet I admire. It is a gift to you, with thanks for joining me on this great blogging adventure.

A Poem by Li-Young Lee

From Blossoms 

From blossoms comes 

this brown paper bag of peaches 

we bought from the boy 

at the bend in the road where we turned toward 

signs painted Peaches. 

From laden boughs, from hands, 

from sweet fellowship in the bins, 

comes nectar at the roadside, succulent 

peaches we devour, dusty skin and all, 

comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat. 

O, to take what we love inside, 

to carry within us an orchard, to eat 

not only the skin, but the shade, 

not only the sugar, but the days, to hold 

the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into 

the round jubilance of peach. 

There are days we live 

as if death were nowhere 

in the background; from joy 

to joy to joy, from wing to wing, 

from blossom to blossom to 

impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Paulette Tavormina


Images here are all by Paulette Tavormina
The beautiful images illustrating this story are by the New York photographer, Paulette Tavormina. They are used her with her express permission.

Paulette says:

“Growing up in a Sicilian family, food was the central focus of our gatherings. The lively conversations, preparation, and creation of every feast was as important as the celebration of sitting down together and breaking bread. The legacy of these culinary traditions is emblematic of my life and textures my work.

In the 1990s, when I was living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a close friend introduced me to seventeenth century still life painters, including Giovanna Garzoni and Maria Sibylla Merian. Around the same time, my work as a commercial photographer was beginning to develop. The sensuality of the Old Masters and the technicality of photography appeals to me; in my photographs, I am directly inspired by classic natura morta imagery and the abundance of perfectly imperfect flowers, fruits, and vegetables that I find in the markets.

Living in New York now, I am in the habit of searching for ladybugs, butterflies, and flower buds as I walk through the city streets. I frequent the farmers markets and flower markets with their vibrant, colorful bounty. At Sotheby’s, where I photograph works of art, I collect images, textures, and light with my mind’s eye. In my studio, I compile items from my personal collection with flora and fauna and borrowed antique objects to create romantic vignettes inspired by the Old Masters. The hidden secrets within my pictures allow me to return to and savor moments in time.

These still lifes, with their careful balance of old world antiquity and my European ancestry, are a modern and verdant story about love among chaos, the tenderness of life, seizing precious moments and the inevitable passage of time.” 

Sour Cherries, After G.G. 2011

Paulette Tavormina:

You can also find her images at MARCH, Sacramento Street, San Francisco and Robert Klein Gallery, Boston.

Fruit & Roses, After I.S. 2010