Opera Blog

December 6, 2019

Backstage with Matthew: The start of a thrilling new chapter

On Thursday I had the great honor of announcing our new music director at San Francisco Opera: Eun Sun Kim! It was, and will remain, one of the proudest moments of my career. 

November 14, 2019 Hansel and Gretel

Backstage with Matthew: The intertwining of history and fairy tales

As we open the curtain on a charming new coproduction of the fairy-tale opera Hansel and Gretel, I thought it would be interesting to delve into the overall production design, and learn about the inspirations used by director/designer Antony McDonald in creating the production.

October 31, 2019 Hansel and Gretel

Backstage with Matthew: Into the Woods

On November 15th we raise the curtain on a new production of Hansel and Gretel — one of the most charming, heartfelt and nostalgic operas in the repertoire. A work of sumptuous orchestration, soaring melodies and a fantastical world that appeals to adults and children alike. 

October 15, 2019 The Marriage of Figaro

Backstage with Matthew: The Music of Conversation

It has been such a joy to open our brand new production of The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart, the beginning of our new trilogy of Mozart-Da Ponte operas to be rolled out over the course of three seasons. I am so proud of the creative energy of the company, conceiving, building and performing something so beautiful and humanistic.

October 3, 2019 The Marriage of Figaro

Backstage with Matthew: The Form, Function and Fichus of Figaro Fashion

With opening night of The Marriage of Figaro just around the corner on October 11, rehearsals are well underway on stage for this exciting new production, ushering in a brand-new trilogy of the Mozart-Da Ponte operas at San Francisco Opera. This new production, directed by Michael Cavanagh and designed by Erhard Rom (scenery), Constance Hoffman (costumes) and Jane Cox (lighting), will be a beautiful and fascinating new take on one of the most beloved operas in the repertoire.

September 19, 2019 Romeo & Juliet

Backstage with Matthew: To pronate or to supinate?

Our opening opera of Romeo and Juliet is such an intensely lyrical, romantic work, focused heavily on the journey of our two famous lovers from their star-crossed meeting to their tragic deaths. Four great duets punctuate the opera as we surge from one emotional high to the next. But surrounding the soaring romance is a world of politics, feuds, vengeance and … the sword. 

September 5, 2019 Billy Budd

Backstage with Matthew: Taking to the high seas

This week we open an extraordinary production new to the San Francisco Opera stage – Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd, based on the novella by Herman Melville of the same name. It has been 15 years since we have had any Britten on the War Memorial stage, and I am so excited for its return.

August 15, 2019 The Marriage of Figaro

Backstage with Matthew: A House Built for the Ages

On October 11th we will raise the curtain on a brand-new production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, beginning an exciting three-season journey through the operas Mozart wrote with the librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte. In a unique approach, The Marriage of Figaro, Così fan tutte and Don Giovanni will be produced on a shared set, but a set that evolves through time.

July 25, 2019 Rusalka

Backstage with Matthew: Emerging from the Depths

As I reflect back on our 2018-19 season, I am so grateful for the amazing artistic journeys that we went on together this past year. One of the most deeply impactful for so many of us was Rusalka and I wanted to close out the summer with another glimpse of one of the many elements that came together so perfectly in this glorious production. Back in May we explored the crafts of Rusalka. This time we descend into the watery depths to explore the elevators that allowed characters to emerge so effortlessly through the water.

June 18, 2019 Carmen

Backstage with Matthew: Entering in Style

To quote Shakespeare, “all men and women...have their exits and entrances” but it has to be said that not all entrances are created equally. As we continue our run of Carmen, I’ve had many questions about the entrance of Escamillo and the four-footed friend on which he arrives and departs. I thought it was time to share with you the story of Drogen, our equine show-stealer in Carmen.

June 7, 2019 Orlando

Backstage with Matthew: Inside the Mind of Orlando

It’s a very exciting time at San Francisco Opera. This summer we welcome three beautiful, impactful productions to the stage, and in this edition of Backstage with Matthew I wanted to delve into the dramatic world of Handel’s Orlando, the particularly forward-looking Baroque opera that we are bringing back to San Francisco after 34 years.

May 16, 2019 Rusalka

Backstage with Matthew: The weird and wonderful crafts in Rusalka

It’s thrilling to be back in rehearsals at the Opera! Last week we welcomed a fantastic group of artists to the Opera as we prepare for our three summer operas. I am so excited for what is ahead of us: a sultry, evocative production of Carmen, a deeply insightful, exquisitely beautiful Orlando and a spectacular production of Dvořák’s opera Rusalka.

March 5, 2019 The Marriage of Figaro

Backstage with Matthew: The Art and Science of Fabrics

In the last edition of Backstage with Matthew, we delved into the pre-construction process for the scenic designs of our brand new production of the Mozart/Da Ponte operas. This is the beginning of a three-year journey through three of the most humanistic, emotionally perceptive operas ever written: The Marriage of Figaro, Così fan tutte and Don Giovanni, all directed by Michael Cavanagh.

January 31, 2019 The Marriage of Figaro

Backstage with Matthew: Crafting the Blueprints of Opera

It is always such a joy to launch a new year with a new season announcement, and I hope that you’ve had a chance to explore the varied offerings of the 2019–20 season. One of the most exciting for me is the inception of a new Mozart trilogy, composed of the operas he wrote with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte—The Marriage of Figaro, Così fan tutte, and Don Giovanni.

December 21, 2018

Backstage with Matthew: Reflections

What an incredible year of opera we have just experienced!

It all began on April 13 when we began our first musical rehearsals for the Ring cycle, ushering in eight months of intense creativity and transformational artistic experiences onstage.

The Ring was one of those moments that defined San Francisco Opera as one of the great opera companies of the world: a level of excellence in all aspects of our art and craft that made this Ring a life-changing experience for many, and one that scaled the heights of emotional possibility.

November 28, 2018 It's a Wonderful Life

Backstage with Matthew: Dressing through Time

We are currently in the midst of our highly acclaimed production of It’s a Wonderful Life, the new holiday opera by Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer, co-commissioned with Houston Grand Opera (where it premiered in 2016) and Indiana University. I have been thrilled by the heartfelt reaction from audiences and critics alike—it is a work for which a pack of Kleenex is pretty much a necessity as we follow the journeys of George Bailey and his guardian angel, Clara.

November 13, 2018 It's a Wonderful Life

Backstage with Matthew: Working Out the Wings

On November 17, we enter the fairy-tale world of It’s a Wonderful Life – the story of a man desperate to find meaning in life, and the angel who helps him find that meaning, earning her wings in the process. It is a beautiful, lyrical, heartfelt operatic version of the film of the same name, and this is a new co-commission between San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand Opera and the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. The composer: the Bay Area’s very own Jake Heggie, working with esteemed librettist Gene Scheer. It will be perfect for adults and children alike and it will make for a joyful holiday experience for families!

October 24, 2018 Arabella

Backstage with Matthew: The Birth of a New Arabella

Last week, we were privileged to witness a number of artists taking on new roles in Strauss’ exquisitely romantic opera, Arabella. Soaring into the stratosphere with the role for her very first time was Ellie Dehn, the American soprano who has already brought roles from Donna Anna to Fiordiligi to the Countess to Musetta to Manon alive on our stage. Arabella is a unique role. It sits very high for a soprano, and needs to float with a silvery magic but also soar over Richard Strauss’ sumptuous orchestral textures. There are not many sopranos in the world able to take on this role, and so we were thrilled to witness Ellie’s first.

October 7, 2018 Tosca

Backstage with Matthew: The Sounds of Rome

On Wednesday we raised the curtain on our breathtaking new production of Tosca. It was such a proud moment for me and for so many others in the Company: the birth of an exquisite new legacy production conceived for San Francisco Opera, built here by our own artists, artisans and technicians, and created for this city at this time. It’s a searingly incisive expression of this powerful opera and I hope that you will have a chance to see it.

September 21, 2018 Tosca

Backstage with Matthew: Recreating History

In less than two weeks we open the curtain on our brand-new production of Tosca, directed by Shawna Lucey with set and costume designs by Robert Innes Hopkins and lighting design by Michael James Clark. I couldn’t be more excited at what is coming to life in the Opera House. Today we have the piano dress rehearsal—the coming together of all the physical elements—after which we will add the orchestra and move towards the final dress and opening.

September 7, 2018 Roberto Devereux

Backstage with Matthew: Another opening, another season!

Welcome to opening day of the 2018-19 season, the 96th season of San Francisco Opera! Today we raise the curtain on another year of thrilling operatic journeys as we delve into eight extraordinary stories of humanity, told through eight productions new to San Francisco, with eight different conductors on the podium, and eight sensational casts. I cannot wait to explore all of these with you!

Backstage with Matthew: An Argentine Journey

When we open the curtain on September 7th, ushering in the 2018–19 season, the audience will be transported to a place of vibrant color, intense passions, close communities and…tango. The world of La Boca district in Buenos Aires—the Italian quarter of the city—will come to life as the setting for this fascinating take on Cavalleria Rusticana / Pagliacci in a production conceived by the great Argentine tenor, and now director and designer, José Cura.

August 6, 2018 Tosca

Backstage with Matthew: Hats Off to Tosca!

Welcome to the 2018-19 Season! It is hard to believe, but we are already back in rehearsal as we prepare for a thrilling fall ahead, and this week our brand new production of Tosca takes to the stage for preliminary technical rehearsals. I cannot wait to share this production with you, created by local craftspeople, designed specifically for our stage and our audiences, and a beautiful new expression of this classic work.

July 23, 2018

Backstage with Matthew: A Little Valkyrie Magic

I am still feeling incredible euphoria after our extraordinary Ring cycle last month! It was such a powerful coming together of company and community in a powerful, shared experience. I don’t think that I’ve ever felt the Opera House resonate with that kind of energy before, and I hope that many of you also had a similar reaction.

June 28, 2018

Backstage with Matthew: Controlled Conflagrations

Fire is a vital and very exciting part of telling the story of the Ring.

June 12, 2018

Backstage with Matthew: The Immersive Ring

Today we raise the curtain on what promises to be an extraordinary presentation of Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle.

May 29, 2018

Backstage with Matthew: A Noble Ring

After the double basses and bassoons lay the foundational sonorities at the opening of Rheingold, the first instruments we hear depicting the swells of the Rhine River are the horns.

May 24, 2018

Backstage with Matthew: Big Art in Miniature

A few weeks ago I had a powerfully inspiring visit to Thomas Edison Elementary School in Daly City and a chance to see two classes working with SFO's flagship program.

April 16, 2018

Backstage with Matthew: Building a Roman Icon

Something very exciting is currently happening 15 miles down the road from the Opera House. Something that you will see in all of its splendor this October, but which I’m so enthusiastic about that I wanted to give you a few glimpses of now! It is our spectacular new production of Tosca!

March 13, 2018

Backstage with Matthew: Apples of Gold in Settings of Silver

The title of this week’s backstage email refers to an exquisite book on my shelf that chronicles twelve of the greatest feasts of history. I thought it a fitting stepping-off point for a rare glimpse into the behind-the-scenes world of our Special Events department.

February 14, 2018

Backstage with Matthew: Facilitating Experiences of a Lifetime

It’s been just about three weeks since we launched our 2018–19 season and we’ve been thrilled by the reception from patrons. Subscription sales are moving at a brisk pace, and there is a wonderful energy for what lies ahead. That energy is felt particularly acutely in the Box Office, the nerve center of our ticketing services.

December 18, 2017

Backstage with Matthew: Looking Back with Joy

On December 10th we lowered the curtain on a fall season bursting with extraordinary opera. I am so proud to work for a company that makes possible this kind of work—both our exceptionally talented employees, and our generous and dedicated audiences.

December 11, 2017

Backstage with Matthew: Sitting Side by Side

It is something of a truism that participation in the arts leads to a deeper connection to the arts. That is a central philosophy behind our education programs, opening opportunities to learn through creation and participation. 

November 28, 2017

Backstage with Matthew: Singing Through the Centuries

This Thursday, November 30, we are presenting a very special concert in the Taube Atrium at the Wilsey Center. It is the second concert of the San Francisco Opera Chorus, and will be conducted by our Chorus Director, Ian Robertson and accompanied by Associate Chorus Master Fabrizio Corona. 

November 8, 2017

Backstage with Matthew: A Finely Coiffed Head!

As we delve into a busy November with three operas on stage, our wig department is working around the clock to ensure that all our artists are coiffed with wigs and facial hair that morph our singers and dancers into vibrant characters from mythical China, Belle Époque Paris, and 1850s California.

October 31, 2017

Backstage with Matthew: Crafting the Gold Rush

With the world premiere of John Adams’ Girls of the Golden West less than a month away, the energy and fervor around the Company is palpable as all the details lock into place. It is shaping up to be one of the most impactful new operas seen on our (or any!) stage. 

October 9, 2017

Backstage with Matthew: The Art of Fashion

Tomorrow (October 10) we begin rehearsals for our next opera of this incredible fall season, Massenet’s Manon. This is a new SFO co-production with Lithuanian National Opera and a creation from the same team that brought us The Capulets and the Montagues in 2012—director (and, in this case, also costume designer) Vincent Boussard and set designer, Vincent Lemaire. As with Capuleti, Manon will be a shimmering interplay of light, reflection and color onstage, creating the giddy and capricious worlds through which Manon flits. 

September 28, 2017

Backstage with Matthew: Stepping in for Callas

Overheard before a performance of Elektra at the Royal Opera House back in the 1960s: a grand doyenne of London society was talking with a friend and, upon suggesting that they continue their conversation at intermission, and upon finding out that there was no intermission, she exclaimed with incredulity: “My dear…an opera without an intermission?…What’s the point!”

September 6, 2017

Backstage with Matthew: An Epic Jigsaw Puzzle

The air is getting thick with excitement as we build towards the opening of our 2017–18 Season on Friday. The following day we open Richard Strauss’ deeply psychological thriller Elektra in an insightful new production by Keith Warner. 

August 14, 2017

Backstage with Matthew: All Change Above

I can’t resist: how many electricians does it take to change a light bulb? Well, when you’re talking about the great chandelier of the War Memorial Opera House, it’s 3 electricians but it’s also 588 light bulbs! 

July 25, 2017

Backstage with Matthew: Opera with a Twist

As we and other urban companies take an important summer breather between repertory seasons, something very exciting happens. The summer opera festivals leap into life, filling the languid months of summer with a thrilling array of operatic offerings.

June 22, 2017

Backstage with Matthew: The Roar of the Greasepaint

On July 2nd we will bid a very fond farewell to one of the most iconic characters backstage at San Francisco Opera for the past 45 years. Principal make-up artist William “Bill” Stewart Jones will make up Dale Travis as the two characters of Benoît and Alcindoro in Bohème for the last time, marking the close of a career that has seen some of the most luminous stars of opera pass under his make-up brush including Régine Crespin, Plácido Domingo, Ingvar Wixell and Sam Ramey.

June 12, 2017

Backstage with Matthew-Dressing for Gold

In a recent Backstage with Matthew I showcased the process of building the sets for our new John Adams opera Girls of the Golden West. Last week, designer Rita Ryack joined us in the costume shop, meeting to finalize designs and choose fabrics for the incredible period costumes that will be featured on stage. 

May 5, 2017

Backstage with Matthew-Creating the Art of Opera

In just a few days, the street lights and bus sides of San Francisco will be transformed with the arrival of the Opera’s new bold, energetic marketing campaign. 

April 19, 2017 Girls of the Golden West

Backstage with Matthew - Scaling the Sierra

Last week, scenic designer David Gropman visited the Opera for talks with the production department to make decisions on John Adams' new opera, Girls of the Golden West

February 27, 2017

Backstage with Matthew-  February 27

Last Friday we opened Ted Hearne’s searingly impactful dramatic oratorio, The Source in the Wilsey Center for Opera. It is a work that redefines artistry on many levels: musical language, technological effects, and stark questions about what it means to engage with art. It is also an example of how the Wilsey Center is redefining possibilities for the Opera’s employees.

February 13, 2017

Backstage with Matthew - February 13

There are two basic ways to organize an opera season. Repertory opera houses cycle through many productions at the same time, while staggione (or “season”) opera houses tend to focus on one production at a time. San Francisco Opera tends more towards the repertory model and if there’s one defining feature of repertory, its complexity! 

January 21, 2017

Backstage with Matthew - January 21

Happy New Year from San Francisco Opera! On Tuesday I was very proud to announce a thrilling 2017–18 Season at San Francisco Opera and I wanted to share a few personal reflections on what lies ahead.

December 12, 2016

Backstage with Matthew - December 12

I recently took off to Beijing for two days with our board member and Co-Chair of the Dream of the Red Chamber (DRC) Committee, Doreen Woo Ho, and my colleague Daniel Knapp, Managing Director: Production. Our objective: to try and secure safe passage for DRC in mainland China next year!

November 28, 2016

Backstage with Matthew - November 28

As many of you know, we are very proud to be showcasing two former Adler Fellows, Leah Crocetto and Brian Jagde. But we are also proud to be showcasing two members of our corps de ballet as the solo dancers: Rachel Little and Jekyns Peláez.

November 14, 2016

Backstage with Matthew - November 14

One of the things I love about playing in repertory (changing productions night to night) is that we are constantly creating different worlds onstage. That magical shift is embodied in the incredible San Francisco Opera Chorus, a group of 48 talented singers who shift seamlessly between productions, languages, characterizations, and dramatic styles.

November 3, 2016

Backstage with Matthew - November 3

This week we’re visiting our orchestral librarian, Carrie Weick. The Opera has two full time librarians (one for orchestral music, the other for vocal music), and two part-time librarians supporting them. Carrie, as orchestral librarian, is a member of the orchestra and ensures that everyone’s music is fully prepared before rehearsals begin.

October 18, 2016

Backstage with Matthew - October 18

Stagecraft is all about magic: it’s about creating arresting worlds and feelings inside a black box. Unlike film, opera requires us to maneuver around these worlds in real time and, as such, needs a plethora of tricks and devices at its disposal.

October 3, 2016

Backstage with Matthew - October 3

One of the things that most excites me about this art-form is the passionate connection that exists between the stage and the audience. The audience is an essential part of the artistic process and the energy that flows back and forth between stage and auditorium is what creates those performances of a lifetime!

September 19, 2016

Backstage with Matthew - September 19

Deep in the farthest reaches of the Opera House lies a room so secret that it is literally kept under lock and key, and its contents are kept under yet further locks. It is the Opera’s armory.

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