Nicole Paiement
Nicole Paiement | Credit: Cory Weaver

Opera Parallèle, a small company with huge ambition and exceptional daring (also with a Francophile accent grave over the e), continues to champion contemporary works, as it has throughout its history. Founder and Artistic Director Nicole Paiement and Creative Director Brian Staufenbiel are among the bravest people in the music world.

The proof is in the here and now: While the company is performing The Shining, the operatic adaptation of Stephen King’s haunted-house novel, June 2–4 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, it is also announcing a season of contemporary works.

Paiement describes the 2023–2024 season:

It is a journey through time with three beautiful and relevant human stories. Beginning in the future, we explore our environmental issues through an intergenerational family relationship with The Emissary.

Moving to the ’70s era, we then examine the spirit of competition through the comical lens of Birds & Balls and end the season with a profound depiction of love flourishing under persecution in the 1950s with Fellow Travelers.

This is another season of all living composers and world or West Coast premieres, showcasing both new and established creators working at the height of their talents.”

Brian Staufenbiel
Brian Staufenbiel | Credit; Cory Weaver

Staufenbiel told SF Classical Voice:

“I am very excited about returning to SFJAZZ for Birds & Balls to transform the space into a 360-degree competitive arena, with some of the audience seated onstage and a live tennis court.

“We’re also looking forward to collaborating with our new venue partners at the Presidio Theatre and ODC Theater — two beautiful new spaces for San Francisco audiences to enjoy opera.”

Opera Parallèle’s season will include commissions for the first opera from Kenji Oh and to bring film and TV composer Laura Karpman’s work to San Francisco for the first time.

The season begins Oct. 27–28 with the world premiere of The Emissary, by Oh and librettist Kelley Rourke, choreographed by Yayoi Kambara. The opera, based on Yoko Tawada’s novel, is a dystopian satire that addresses the environmental angst of today and the ever-increasing psychological stress on the younger generation.

In The Emissary (published in the U.K. and elsewhere as The Last Children of Tokyo), Tawada tells the story of a nuclear disaster similar to Fukushima, during which the Japanese government implements an “isolation policy,” cutting the country off from the outside world.

Central Tokyo is deserted. The country’s soil is contaminated, its plants have mutated, and its people are living under a capricious governing body that not only has waged a war on words (the term “mutation” having been replaced by the more agreeable “environmental adaptation”) but has proven to have a penchant for tinkering with the laws.

April 5–7, 2024, will bring the double bill OP has named Birds & Balls: composer David T. Little and librettist Royce Vavrek’s comedy about Flemish sportsmanship, Vinkensport, or The Finch Opera, paired with the premiere of composer Laura Karpman and librettist Gail Collins’s tennis spectacle, Balls, based on the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.

Vinkensport (2010, commissioned by Dawn Upshaw for the Bard Conservatory) is about the sport of professional finch-calling, contestants battling it out to see who has the most melodious bird. Coaxed by their owners, trained finches race to sing the most “susk-e-wiets” over the course of an hour, where every tweet is noted in chalk on a long stick. The winner, of course, is the finch who has tweeted the most, but there are complications.

The OP season concludes June 21–23, 2024, with the West Coast premiere of Fellow Travelers, by composer Gregory Spears and librettist Greg Pierce, about “forbidden love” during the McCarthy era.

Following the 2016 Cincinnati premiere and productions at Lyric Opera of Chicago, Minnesota Opera, New York’s Prototype Festival, and Boston Lyric Opera, Fellow Travelers arrives in San Francisco with the story of a gay affair during the “lavender scare,” a largely overlooked witch hunt during the 1950s Red Scare.

Just as the Red Scare hunted and persecuted liberals and leftists in Washington and Hollywood through Eugene McCarthy’s Senate hearings, the “lavender scare” ended the government careers and ruined the lives of suspected gay and lesbian people — with the active participation of closeted FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

Major support for Opera Parallèle is provided by Gordon Getty, the Lemala Fund, City and County of San Francisco Grants for the Arts, Donna Dubinsky and Len Shustek, the Future Fund, Scott R. Lord, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation.