Now in its 37th year, the Schwabacher Recital Series returns on Wednesday, January 29, with performances at San Francisco’s Dianne and Tad Taube Atrium Theater that feature emerging artists from around the globe.
Presented by San Francisco Opera Center and Merola Opera Program, the annual Schwabacher Series consists of four Wednesday evening recitals, the last of which concludes on April 22.
The first-ever Schwabacher series was presented in December 1983, kicking off a decades-long San Francisco tradition of presenting rising international talent in the intimacy of a recital setting. The 2020 series will blend classics like Hector Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’Été with rarely performed 20th- and 21st-century works like Olivier Messiaen’s Harawi.
JANUARY 29: ALICE CHUNG, LAUREANO QUANT AND NICHOLAS ROEHLER
The series opens on January 29 with a set of performers recently seen as part of the Merola Opera Program: mezzo-soprano Alice Chung, baritone Laureano Quant and pianist Nicholas Roehler. Twice named as a Merola artist—once in 2017 and again in 2019—Chung returns to the Bay Area for this recital, having been hailed as a “force of nature” by San Francisco Classical Voice (SFCV). She will tackle a range of works, from Colombian composer Luis Carlos Figueroa’s soothing lullaby “Berceuse” to cabaret-inspired works like William Bolcom’s “Over the Piano.
Quant, a 2019 Merola participant, joins Chung to perform Bolcom’s music, as well as select songs from Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’Été and Francesco Santoliquido’s I Canti della Sera. His singing earned him the attention of the San Francisco Chronicle, which dubbed him an “obvious standout” in the 2019 Merola Grand Finale.
In addition, Quant—who boasts a background as a composer in his native Colombia—will present original music. He named his composition Sombras, inspired by the words of landmark Colombian poet José Asunción Silva. The set is composed of two songs: “Las voces silenciosas,” representing the voices of the dead calling out from the underworld, and “Estrellas fijas,” about a love story told from the grave.
Transforming poetry into song for “Las voces silenciosas” proved to be particularly challenging for Quant. “Since it was my first attempt to write vocal music, it took me three months to really settle on how I wanted to set the poem,” Quant says. He has previously performed these works in Colombia.
Roehler, a colleague of Chung’s and Quant’s in the 2019 Merola Opera Program, brings an expertise in collaborative piano honed under the instruction of master pianist Martin Katz at the University of Michigan. He previously served as music staff for the Crane Opera Ensemble.
MARCH 4: SIMONE MCINTOSH, TIMOTHY MURRAY AND ROBERT MOLLICONE
The second Schwabacher recital takes place on March 4, featuring mezzo-soprano Simone McIntosh and baritone Timothy Murray, with conductor and member of the San Francisco Opera music staff Robert Mollicone on the piano. Murray, who starts a residency at San Francisco Opera as an Adler Fellow in 2020, will juxtapose the Impressionistic music of Claude Debussy with the boundary-pushing, contemporary work of British composer Jonathan Dove. Previously, Murray participated in the 2019 Merola Opera Program.
McIntosh, a 2018 Merola alumna now entering her second year as an Adler Fellow, will sing Olivier Messiaen’s rarely performed Harawi. This haunting 1945 song cycle was named for a style of Andean music that often combines romance and tragedy — something Messiaen drew inspiration from after the passing of his first wife, fellow composer Claire Delbos.
In choosing this lesser-known work, McIntosh—who recently appeared as a Wood Nymph in San Francisco Opera’s 2019 Rusalka—explains that she became “enamored by the raw emotion” she felt the first time she heard Harawi in Toronto in 2015.
“Messiaen’s cycle brings you into another sound-world, in which abstract text, color and music make a perfect combination,” McIntosh says. From the moment she first heard Harawi, it was her “distinct artistic goal to perform the whole 50-minute set from front to back.”
Tackling Harawi’s challenging piano music—as well as providing accompaniment for the entire evening—will be Robert Mollicone. A former Adler Fellow, as well as a 2011 Merola alumnus, Mollicone has performed on stage alongside some of opera’s greatest voices including Denyce Graves, Jamie Barton and Simon Estes.
APRIL 1: ASHLEY DIXON AND KSENIIA POLSTIANKINA BARRAD
The third 2020 Schwabacher recital, held April 1, features mezzo-soprano Ashley Dixon, a 2018–19 Adler Fellow who has performed in such San Francisco Opera mainstage productions as Carmen, Rusalka, Manon Lescaut and Hansel and Gretel. She participated in the Merola Opera Program in 2015 and again in 2017.
Her performance at the 2019 The Future Is Now concert earned her rave reviews, with the San Francisco Chronicle hailing her as a “master” of the Baroque repertoire. “She’s got a robust instrument full of beguiling vocal colors,” the Chronicle writes, “as well as the formidable technical command to unleash streams of glittering coloratura with precision and panache.”
Joining Dixon on stage is pianist Kseniia Polstiankina Barrad, a 2018 Merola participant and rising second-year Adler Fellow who was hailed as an “excellent accompanist” by the Bay Area Reporter. She recently worked alongside Dixon as part of The Future Is Now. For this recital, Dixon and Barrad will tackle an array of works, with particular emphasis on the French and Spanish repertoire. Featured composers include Fernando Obradors, Joaquín Turina, Francis Poulenc, Maurice Ravel and Carlos Guastavino.
According to San Francisco Opera Center Director Sheri Greenawald, Dixon’s dedication to the song recital as an art form can be credited, in part, to one of her mentors, the celebrated pianist Martin Katz. “He instilled a sense of gravity and importance to the delivery of this music, and Ashley took the reins and ran,” Greenawald says. “We have watched her in many guises on our stage, but one of my favorite ‘Ashleys’ is Ashley the songster. Her languages are beautiful, and her sense of phrasing impeccable.”
Dixon herself sees the recital as a uniquely empowering showcase. “I feel like, in song recital, you can really show your full range of artistic expression,” Dixon says. “I’m so passionate about French and Spanish repertoire and being able to share that with this audience is a dream of mine.”
APRIL 22: WARREN JONES, ESTHER TONEA, VICTOR STARSKY AND TIMOTHY MURRAY
The final Schwabacher recital shines a spotlight on the artistry of acclaimed pianist Warren Jones and that of three 2020 Adler Fellows: soprano Esther Tonea, tenor Victor Starsky and baritone Timothy Murray.
“We are so excited to welcome Warren Jones back to the series this year,” says Mark Morash, director of musical studies at the San Francisco Opera Center. “Warren is an internationally recognized leader in the field of song, having partnered with countless renowned singers on the top recital stages of the world for well over 40 years.”
Named the 2010 “Collaborative Pianist of the Year” by Musical America, Jones has worked alongside some of opera’s greatest voices: Stephanie Blythe, Marilyn Horne and Kathleen Battle, to name a few. On top of his international work, touring recital stages from Beijing to New York, Jones is also a dedicated educator, serving on the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music and leading masterclasses at institutions like the Merola Opera Program.
For the April 22 Schwabacher recital, Jones is collaborating with three performers from the 2020 Adler Fellowship and 2019 Merola Opera Program. Soprano Esther Tonea and baritone Timothy Murray recently co-starred in the Merola Opera Program’s 2019 world premiere performance of If I Were You, an opera by composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Sheer. The San Francisco Chronicle highlighted Tonea’s “magnificent singing” in that performance, which it described as “ardent” and “tonally plush.”
Murray, meanwhile, boasts what the New York Times calls a “firm, flexible baritone.” Joining them will be tenor Victor Starsky, who possesses what Opera Today calls “a voice that performs vocal acrobatics with strength and beauty.”
Together, these artists will perform selections from 19th- and 20th-century composers, including Giuseppe Verdi, Charles Griffes, Charles Ives and Amy Beach. Jones “has lit upon a brilliant program of Italian and American song that will ideally showcase three of our Adler Fellows,” Morash says. “It promises to be a great concert.”