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Schwabacher Recitals Open with Korean Tenor and Baritone

January 29, 2019

With the 2019 Schwabacher Recital Series upon us, it’s only right to remember the man who started and funded the event that bears his name.

James Schwabacher, 1920 – 2006, was a seminal, kind, self-effacing, ever-present champion of vocal music in the San Francisco Bay Area, leaving a rich legacy benefitting generations of young singers. A tenor, teacher, vocal coach, and radio and television host, Schwabacher co-founded the Merola Opera Program in 1957, San Francisco Performances in 1980, and launched the Schwabacher Debut Recital Series in 1983. He endowed the recital series in perpetuity; it is sponsored by the Jack H. Lund Charitable Trust.

Among those making their debuts in the recital series over the years: sopranos Deborah Voigt, Anna Netrebko, and Tracy Dahl; mezzo-soprano Susan Graham; tenor Michael Schade; baritone Thomas Hampson; and bass John Relyea.

This year’s series — all taking place in the Veterans Memorial Building’s Atrium Theater Wednesday evenings at 7:30 — begins on Feb. 13, with tenor WooYoung Yoon (Merola 2018) and baritone SeokJong Baek (2018 Merola, first-year Adler Fellow) sharing the stage, accompanied by pianist Kseniia Polstiankina Barrad (Merola 2018, first-year Adler Fellow).

Baek will sing Poulenc’s Chansons Gaillardes and the Mahler song cycle Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer). Yoon follows with Richard Strauss’s Vier Lieder, Op. 27 (“Ruhe, meine Seele!” “Cäcilie,” “Heimliche Aufforderung,” “Morgen”) and Jake Heggie’s Friendly Persuasions: Homage to Poulenc, composed in 2008. The cycle’s four songs set to poetry by Gene Scheer are based on transformative friendships and meetings in Francis Poulenc’s life.

The program is completed by the duet “Au fond du temple saint” from Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers, and folk songs from the singers’ native South Korea.

On Feb. 27, the featured singer is baritone David Pershall (Merola 2008), accompanied by pianist and S.F. Opera Head of Music Staff John Churchwell (Merola 1996). Their program includes Beethoven’s song cycle, An die Ferne Geliebte; Mahler’s Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen; Gerald Finzi’s Earth and Air and Rain; and songs by Rachmaninoff.

The series continues on April 3 with soprano Mary Evelyn Hangley (Merola 2016; first-year Adler Fellow) and tenor Christopher Oglesby (Merola 2018; first-year Adler Fellow), with pianist and S.F. Opera Center Director of Musical Studies Mark Morash (Merola 1987).

The program includes works by Schubert (Auf dem Strom), Britten (Canticle III: Still Falls the Rain), R. Strauss (Sechs Lieder, Op. 19), Dvořák (Cigánské Melodie), songs by Charles Ives and Gabriel Fauré, and duets by Italian composers.

Martin Katz, called “dean of collaborative pianists,” leads a quartet of 2019 S.F. Opera Adler Fellows — soprano Mary Evelyn Hangley (Merola 2016, first-year Adler Fellow), mezzo-soprano Ashley Dixon (2015 and 2017 Merola, second-year Adler Fellow), tenor Zhengyi Bai (Merola 2018, first-year Adler Fellow), and bass-baritone Christian Pursell (Merola 2017, second-year Adler Fellow) — in the final recital of the series on April 24.

On the program: Samuel Barber’s Hermit Songs and selections from Hugo Wolf’s Mörike Lieder, and Brahms’s Deutsche Volkslieder.

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].