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Opera Parallèle will return to Yerba Buena Center for the Arts next month

Screen shot from a video of a production of Weill's "scenic cantata" at Bennington College
Screen shot from a video of a production of Weill's "scenic cantata" at Bennington College
from The Bennington Blog

In what has come to be an annual event, Opera Parallèle will return next month to the Lam Research Theater at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) for a full-length production. This season that event will be a double bill of two highly provocative short works by the composers Kurt Weill and Francis Poulenc. Both involve musical settings of texts that were particularly outrageous for the times in which they were written.

Weill described his Mahagonny-Songspiel as a “small-scale ‘scenic cantata,’” inspired by the five Mahagonny Songs that Bertolt Brecht had published in his poetry collection Devotions for the Home (Hauspostille) in 1927. Two of those poems were written in English by Brecht’s colleague, Elisabeth Hauptmann (but published under his name), which may explain the bilingual synthesis of German and English in the cantata’s title. Brecht directed a staged version of this cantata when it was first performed at a festival of new German chamber music in Baden-Baden on July 17, 1927. Both the music and the narrative would subsequently expand into a full-length three-act opera, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. Brecht had his production performed in a boxing ring in front of background projections with strong connotations of a setting in a brutally violent and gangster-ridden America. (One of the English-language poems is entitled “Alabama Song.”)

Poulenc’s two-act opera, Les mamelles de Tirésias, was based on a play of the same name by Guillaume Apollinaire, written in 1903 but not performed until 1917. Poulenc began work on it, however, in 1939; and it was not completed until 1944. The surreal narrative is not easy to summarize, but the plot amounts to a bizarre examination of sexuality in a highly industrialized age. (The second act begins as the husband of the plot gives birth to 40,049 babies through his mastery of industrial manufacturing methods.)

There will be three performances of this production in the YBCA Lam Research Theater, two at 8 p.m. on Friday, April 25, and Saturday, April 26, and a 2 p.m. matinee performance on Sunday, April 27. Tickets are priced from $30 to $90 and are now on sale through YBCA. They can be purchased in person at the box office located inside the YBCA Galleries and Forum Building at 701 Mission Street, on the southwest corner of Third Street, over the phone at 415-978-2787 (ARTS), or online through the event page for this production on the YBCA Web site. YBCA members and students are eligible for a 10% discount on ticket purchases.

These performances will be preceded by three preview events:

  1. On April 9 Artistic Director and Conductor Nicole Paiement and Concept Designer Brian Staufenbiel will give an informal lecture about both operas. Musical excerpts will be performed by members of the case. This event will take place in the Recital Hall of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. It will begin at 6 p.m.
  2. On April 16 Paiement will give an informal lecture at the Goethe Institut, beginning at 6:30 p.m.
  3. On April 19 there will be an open rehearsal of both operas in the production. Following the rehearsal, the audience will be invited to remain for a Q&A session with Paiement, Staufenbiel, and members of the cast. This will take place at the Town School for Boys at 2750 Jackson Street (the former site of the Exploratorium). It will run from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

All three of these events will be free and open to the general public. However, the space for the open rehearsal will be limited. Donors will be able to arrange for pre-reserved seating. The remaining seats will then be available to the general public on a first-come, first-served basis.

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