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SF Opera and Merola Program Reinvent Their Summer Season

June 30, 2020

Two important, vital opera organizations are recovering from their COVID-19 cancellations for the rest of the year by creating ambitious digital programs.

San Francisco Opera and the Merola Opera Program (related, but separate) have just announced extensive streaming schedules not long after SF Opera first canceled its summer and then fall seasons, and Merola canceled its 10-week session in the summer.

Streaming is a welcome (and only) substitute for live performances, even if it has challenges for both artists and audiences, but the situation can also present relevance ... if you look hard enough.

Sasha Cooke, who was to sing the role of Laurene Powell Jobs in Mason Bates and Mark Campbell‘s The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs right now, late June-early July, told SF Classical Voice:

Sharing music with others and knowing they’re receiving it, even through a computer, is a great gift right now. It’s interesting how pressing the record button has a similar, albeit smaller, electricity to walking out onstage.

What’s so special about Mason’s music and this particular moment in the opera is that Laurene Jobs breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the audience. The aria “Look Up, Look Out” is about getting out of your phone or computer and being with those around you, absorbing the beauty and warmth of moments together.

Coincidentally she tells the audience to do precisely what I think we are all doing and thinking about right now during COVID — connecting with what matters and what we really need in our lives. Not only are we all craving being together but we appreciate it more than ever. It’s interesting and poignant that Mason and Mark chose this to be the last message of their opera The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs.”

(R)evolution and Cooke will be part of an upcoming three-part program of performances and discussion, “Celebrating the Summer Season,” to be streamed at sfopera.com, July 10 through midnight July 12.

The 90-minute program will also cover the other operas that were to comprise the summer season in the War Memorial: Verdi’s Ernani and Handel’s Partenope. Hosted by General Director Matthew Shilvock and including Music Director Designate Eun Sun Kim, the Opera Orchestra and Chorus, the program will feature Bates, Louise Alder, Michelle Bradley, Jakub Józef Orliński, and Russell Thomas.

Bradley, who was to sing Elvira in Ernani, says “Coming to San Francisco Opera would have been a significant highlight in my career. I have been excited for what was to be a house and role debut for me. I love Verdi and consider it a privilege to sing his works.”

“We are celebrating and honoring the operas that should have been on our stage right now,” says Shilvock. “While it has been heartbreaking to cancel, we wanted to share some of the extraordinary artistry that we were so looking forward to seeing on our stage and have a chance to delve deep into the operas themselves.

“This event will be a preview of other virtual programs we are planning for the fall that will incorporate performances, conversations, behind-the-scenes features, and special surprises.”

The Opera’s ongoing streaming of past productions continues this weekend on SFOpera.com, with Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah, Patricia Racette in the title role.

“Opera is ON” then continues with Rossini’s La Cenerentola on July 18 and Janáček’s The Makropulos Case on July 25. Makropulos, with Karita Mattila in her role debut, and Jirí Belohlávek conducting at his last appearance here before his untimely death, was a memorable event.

The presentations, filmed live in high-definition at the War Memorial Opera House, will be viewable on demand for free at sfopera.com on the streaming date starting at 10 a.m. (PDT) and expiring at 11:59 p.m. the following day.

Merola Opera Program News

On July 9, birthday of the late mezzo-soprano Zheng Cao, the Merola Opera Program holds a grand fundraising program of performances and remembrances, with the participation of Frederica von Stade, Jake Heggie, Amy Tan, Nicolle Foland, Catherine Cook, Emil Miland, Ao Li, WooYoung Yoon, and Kristen Choi.

The program will be streamed beginning 6 p.m. PDT at the Merola Benefit YouTube Channel; the program is free, donations are appreciated.

Beyond that event, Merola is debuting online coaching and instruction for the young artists selected for the 2020 program, and a public series of master chats with performing arts luminaries, who will share their artistic and career experiences with the artists unable to take part in this year’s training program and summer festival, which were canceled due to COVID-19.

Online instruction comes from Lyric Opera of Chicago vocal coach Alan Darling, stage director Chuck Hudson, collaborative pianist Martin Katz, San Francisco Opera’s Italian diction coach Alessandra Cattani, stage director/master teacher Tara Faircloth, Director of the Program for Singers at Ravinia Festival’s Steans Institute vocal coach Kevin Murphy, San Francisco Opera’s French diction coach Patricia Kristof Moy, conductor and San Francisco Opera Center and Merola Director of Musical Studies Mark Morash, and San Francisco Opera Center Director and Merola Artistic Director Sheri Greenawald.

In lieu of this summer’s live performances, the public is invited to join Greenawald for free chats, a series of four conversations to be broadcast live on YouTube on the following schedule, all beginning at 4 p.m. PDT:

Susan Graham – July 8
Meet the Young Artists – July 10 (for Merola members only)
Francesca Zambello – July 16
David Garrison – July 23
Eun Sun Kim and Gregory Henkel – July 30

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