San Francisco Opera Center And Merola Opera Program Present Second Schwabacher Recital
The 37th Schwabacher Recital Series continues on Wednesday, March 4, with its second performance of 2020. San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows Simone McIntosh and Zhengyi Bai take the stage at San Francisco's Dianne and Tad Taube Atrium Theater for a musical exploration of love and heartbreak, accompanied by Robert Mollicone on the piano. Their program will spotlight Olivier Messiaen's rarely performed Harawi, Richard Strauss' beloved Opus 27 songs and selections from Vincenzo Bellini's Sei Ariette da Camera.
Bai steps in for first-year Adler Fellow Timothy Murray, a baritone originally scheduled to take part in the March 4 recital. Murray has withdrawn to participate in the semifinals of the Glyndebourne Opera Cup, but he remains slated to participate in the 2020 Schwabacher series finale on April 22.
McIntosh, who hails from Vancouver, Canada, will tackle Messiaen's Harawi, a work she first encountered at Against the Grain Theatre in a 2015 performance by mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó. The experience was so powerful that McIntosh explains she became "enamored" by the song cycle's intense, unvarnished emotions. "Once I began learning and researching the piece, my love very quickly turned into an obsession," she says.
Messiaen composed the 50-minute song cycle in 1945, at a time of personal tragedy. By the end of World War II, the health of his wife, composer and violinist Claire Delbos, had begun to decline, leading to her premature death in 1959. The theme of love lost is evident in Harawi's subtitle: Chant d'amour et de mort, or Song of Love and Death.
Named for a genre of pre-Hispanic Andean folk music that likewise often dealt with tragic love, Harawi marks the start of Messiaen's "Tristan Trilogy," completed in 1948. Named for the legend of Tristan and Iseult, this trilogy includes Messiaen's Turangalîla-Symphonie and the choral work Cinq Rechants.
Harawi tells the story of Piroutcha and her lover, a couple separated by - and reunited in - death. Employing surrealistic techniques, Messiaen himself wrote the words to Harawi, interspersing onomatopoeia inspired by the indigenous Quechua language into his French lyrics.
McIntosh, now in her second year as an Adler Fellow, recently performed on the San Francisco Opera stage as a Wood Nymph in June 2019's Rusalka. She was a 2018 participant in the Merola Opera Program. In addition to winning the Canadian Opera Company's 2016 Ensemble Studio Competition, McIntosh was named one of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's (CBC) "30 hot Canadian classical musicians under 30" in 2017. In 2019, she starred in the title role of Vancouver Opera's La Cenerentola. The Vancouver Sun praised her performance, saying she "wins over the audience with sheer vocal agility and a lovely rich sound."
Bai, who joins McIntosh for a second year in the Adler Fellowship, is also a graduate of the 2018 Merola Opera Program. He recently appeared on San Francisco Opera's mainstage in June 2019's Carmen, as the smuggler Remendado, as well as in November 2019's Manon Lescaut, where he appeared as both the Lamplighter and Dancing Master.
Originally from Linyi, China, Bai will be performing Strauss' Opus 27, a set of four songs composed in 1894. They include some of the composer's most celebrated lieder: "Ruhe, Meine Seele" ("Rest, My Soul"), "Cäcilie" ("Cecilia"), "Heimliche Aufforderung" ("The Secret Invitation") and "Morgen!" ("Tomorrow!"). Each song is set to the words of a German poem: one from Heinrich Hart, another from Karl Henckell and two by John Henry Mackay.
Bai will also perform selections from Bellini's Sei Ariette da Camera ("Six Little Salon Arias"), a set of flowing Bel Canto pieces. Originally, Bai got his start as a solo pianist - playing works primarily by Franz Liszt and Frédéric Chopin, as well as German lieder and Chinese art songs - before switching his focus to singing. Those years behind the piano, however, proved formative for the tenor: "All those experiences made me really sensitive to music," Bai says. "Of course, it helps me learn music really fast."
He considers Strauss' Opus 27 one of his favorite song sets to perform. "It's romantic, poetic, sincere and beautiful," he explains. "It is also very easy for the audience to understand. Once the music starts, the audience immediately senses Strauss' storytelling."
Bai won accolades for his 2018 performance of the title character in Mozart's Il Re Pastore, with the San Francisco Chronicle remarking on his "radiant, fresh-toned singing and technical bravura" in the Merola Opera Program's production. McIntosh was his co-star then too. "Simone and I worked together a lot," Bai says. "I enjoy her passion for performing."
Hailing from East Greenwich, Rhode Island, Robert Mollicone joins the singers on stage with accompaniment on the piano. A member of San Francisco Opera's music staff, Mollicone has provided musical preparation for a variety of mainstage productions including the 2016 world premiere of Bright Sheng's Dream of the Red Chamber, 2018's Siegfried and 2019's Billy Budd. He conducted the San Francisco Opera Orchestra for 2017's holiday concert Christmas with Sol3 Mio, as well as for the annual Opera in the Park concert.
Mollicone is himself a graduate of the 2011 Merola Opera Program and a two-time Adler Fellow in 2012 and 2013. He brings a wealth of experience collaborating on the concert stage with some of opera's top artists, including Denyce Graves, Simon Estes, Ailyn Pérez and Jamie Barton.
Founded in 1983, the Schwabacher Recital Series highlights up-and-coming international stars, providing a platform for them to showcase their passion and artistry. The annual four-part series concludes with two more unique performances after March 4: one on April 1 and the finale on April 22.
All recitals take place at 7:30 p.m. at the Dianne and Tad Taube Atrium Theater, a state-of-the-art performance venue utilizing the Constellation acoustic system from Berkeley-based Meyer Sound.
The Taube Atrium Theater is part of San Francisco Opera's Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera, located on the fourth floor of the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco.
Tickets for general seating are $30. Tickets can be purchased at the San Francisco Opera Box Office (301 Van Ness Avenue) in person, by phone at (415) 864-3330, and online at sfopera.com/srs. Please note: The four-recital package is available only in-person or by phone. Student rush tickets, subject to availability, are available for $15 at the Taube Atrium Theater 30 minutes prior to each recital. (Limit of two tickets per person; valid ID is required.) Artists, programs, schedules and ticket prices are subject to change.
The Schwabacher Recital Series is endowed in perpetuity by the generosity of the late James Schwabacher and is sponsored in part by the Merola Opera Program. A celebrated Bay Area singer, recitalist, scholar and teacher, James Schwabacher was a co-founder of the Merola Opera Program.
Yamaha is the official piano of San Francisco Opera. Pianos are generously provided by Piedmont Piano Company.