April 8, 2019
It’s unusual for a chamber group, such as the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, to present opera, and even more rare — virtually unprecedented — to offer a pair of world premieres in the genre.
But that’s what LCCE will do on June 1 and 2 in Z Space, premiering Laura Schwendinger’s Artemisia and Christopher Stark’s From the Field.
Artemisia, with libretto by Ginger Strand, is about the famed 17th-century Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi. Using projected images that come to life, Schwendinger’s work depicts Gentileschi’s struggles and triumphs, as the artist receives great recognition while battling intense gender inequality.
“She was one of the most famous painters of her generation, and an important follower of Caravaggio,” says Schwendinger. “Artemisia achieved great renown in an era when women painters were not generally accepted, and she was the first women to be a member of the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno in Florence.
“She specialized in depictions of strong, often anguished women from biblical stories and myth. These depictions were often autobiographical, as she relived the traumatic events of her life through her art.”
The staged world premiere features a cast led by mezzo-soprano Betany Coffland in the title role. Her voice was recently described in an SFCV review as “plush” and “Italianate.”
Coffland is joined by Kyle Stegall, Marnie Breckenridge, Jonathan Smucker, Igor Vieira, and Nikki Einfeld, along with a seven-piece chamber ensemble comprised of Left Coast musicians and guest artists. Matilda Hofman conducts, with stage direction by Jenn BeVard, costumes by Maggie Whitaker, lighting design by Allen Willner, and projections by Andrew Lucia.
Schwendinger, the winner of the first Berlin Prize in composition, has been praised in the Chicago Tribune for “an acute sonic imagination and sure command of craft” and in The New York Times for music that is “darkly attractive, artful, and moving.”
The premiere of Artemisia is made possible by funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Opera Center, and the San Francisco Arts Commission.
Stark’s From the Field is described as a micro-opera, running just 15 minutes. It’s a solo piece for soprano Nikki Einfeld, who sang a leading role in LCCE’s Death With Interruptions.
Stark says his new work “presents three brief glimpses into specific moments in American history in which our government chose to contradict environmental research it commissioned for financial and/or political gain: Dorothea Lange’s Farm Security Administration photographs of rural poverty during the Great Depression; John Wesley Powell’s 19th-century warning about water usage in the American West; and Nobel laureate Steve Running’s current research on climate change.”
The piece is illustrated by projected images of Lange’s dramatic photos of the Dust Bowl migration. Projections are designed by Andrew Lucia, lighting by Allen Willner, and costumes by Jenalie Auth.