Nicole Paiement
Nicole Paiement is Opera Parallèle’s general and artistic director | Credit: Cory Weaver

Ever since its creation 15 short years ago, which now feels like decades of distinction, Opera Parallèle has excelled in presenting pioneering and unusual repertory.

The company is outdoing itself with its 2024–2025 season, which includes the return of Everest by composer Joby Talbot and librettist Gene Scheer (Nov. 6–17), the world premiere of The Pigeon Keeper by composer David Hanlon and librettist Stephanie Fleischmann (March 7–9, 2025), and the long-awaited new production of Harvey Milk by composer Stewart Wallace and librettist Michael Korie (May 31 – June 7, 2025).

With a few historic exceptions — such as Kurt Herbert Adler’s reign of three decades at San Francisco Opera (1953–1981) and John Crosby’s founding tenure at Santa Fe Opera (1956–2000) — most companies, regardless of size, are dominated by a group of board members, executives, artists, and major donors. Not Opera Parallèle.

Brian Staufenbiel
Brian Staufenbiel | Credit: Cory Weaver

Leading the organization, General and Artistic Director Nicole Paiement and Creative Director Brian Staufenbiel have created, maintained, and succeeded with OP through thick and thin. Here is what they say of the coming season.

Paiement: “Our upcoming season continues to build on OP’s mission and goals to create opera that will resonate with our community through its relevant storytelling, its innovative productions, and its collaborative work. We truly believe in the ability of opera to ignite awareness [and] conversations and bring communities together. This upcoming season reflects all of this.”

Staufenbiel: “As Opera Parallèle’s creative and stage director since its conception, I have developed many deep relationships with designers who have worked with me and OP to push boundaries and create new possibilities on the stage.

“This season, we are taking Everest to new heights as we look to the stars at the California Academy of Sciences, utilizing 3D technology to create [the] first animated planetarium opera. A handcrafted textile wall creates the backdrop for our world premiere of The Pigeon Keeper. And in partnership with our LGBTQ family and community, we are creating a new production of Harvey Milk that will come to life with flown sculptures that create an unusual dimensional construct [combined] with projection mapping of historical footage from the 1970s.”

This production of Everest at the California Academy of Sciences’ Morris Planetarium will expand on Opera Parallèle’s previous presentations of the work, which combined intricate graphic novel imagery and a soaring sound world. The opera is based on the true story of an ill-fated 1996 expedition to summit Mount Everest.

The Pigeon Keeper is a world premiere at Fort Mason’s Cowell Theater, surrounded by the sounds of seagulls and sea lions. Staged in 10 scenes, the opera is set in a seaside village, where young Orsia discovers a mute refugee boy. Determined to find him a home, she encounters the Pigeon Keeper, an outsider. In opening his heart to the refugee boy, the Pigeon Keeper frees the child’s voice, and a family’s sorrow is healed.

The full casting and creative team will be announced in September, but the participation of the San Francisco Girls Chorus, led by Artistic Director Valérie Sainte-Agathe, is already confirmed.

David Hanlon
David Hanlon

Composer Hanlon says, “Librettist Stephanie Fleischmann and I started work on The Pigeon Keeper in 2018 [amid] constant images of refugees’ perilous attempts to cross the Mediterranean. We wanted to tell a story of these crossings, connecting it to the many folk tales where a host’s hospitality is tested and where a stranger may not be what they seem.

The Pigeon Keeper is a modern fable that shimmers with magical realism and indelible characters: a silent boy plucked from the waves, a grieving fisherman, his exuberant daughter, an eccentric schoolteacher, a kindly widow, and the ethereal Pigeon Keeper, the outsider who calls to his birds and all the characters to find home.”

The “reimagined” Harvey Milk will be performed at the Blue Shield of California Theater at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Revised to be two acts instead of three, and with new music and a tighter cast since its world premiere at Houston Grand Opera in 1995 and debut at San Francisco Opera in 1996, this version was originally intended for an earlier Opera Parallèle season but was delayed by the pandemic.

Composer Wallace says, “We now have what we originally hoped for, which is a kind of mythic interpretation of [Milk’s] life and his evolution into an activist.” Paiement says, “The basis of our collaboration with Stewart and Michael was to take a new look at Harvey Milk, to rework it into a new and tighter version with a much more dramatic arc. This fresh perspective on the opera is sure to resonate deeply with audiences, honoring Milk’s courageous work in a powerful new way.”

OP’s production is timed to coincide with what would be Milk’s 95th birthday and to mark the start of Pride Month. Casting and creative team will be announced by mid-September.

Harvey Milk is the perfect opera for OP’s 15th anniversary,” says Staufenbiel, “as it is the culmination of so many operas we have produced that have LGBTQ stories and characters, from Caesar in Young Caesar to [Federico] García Lorca in Ainadamar, from Emile Griffith in Champion to Tim and Hawk in Fellow Travelers — and who could forget Billie Jean King in Balls? Harvey Milk is an important LGBTQ citizen and a local and international hero whose story needs to be told in opera, here and around the world.”