San Francisco’s Opera Parallèle has become, according to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Joshua Kosman, “one of the Bay Area’s most indispensable artistic assets.”
The award-winning Opera Parallèle is a professional, nonprofit organization that develops and performs contemporary opera. These operas are internationally acclaimed but rarely performed here.
Opera Parallèle commissions re-orchestrations of contemporary grand opera, to give a sense of intimacy to its productions and to give an afterlife to contemporary works. These works provide a platform to bring together new audiences and emerging talent through workshops, seminars, readings of new works, and educational outreach programs.
Artistic Director Nicole Paiement founded Ensemble Parallèle (now Opera Parallèle) to perform new music and to collaborate with various artists such as dancers, choreographers, and visual and multimedia artists—as the Ensemble’s name suggests, in parallel. These collaborations allowed Opera Parallèle to reach a wider-ranging and younger audience.
In 2007 Opera Parallèle began to focus exclusively on contemporary opera. In February of that year, the organization presented the world premiere of Lou Harrison’s opera Young Caesar. Its productions have included the California premiere of Alban Berg’s opera Wozzeck in the chamber orchestration by composer John Rea (2010); the San Francisco Bay Area premiere of Philip Glass’ opera Orphée (2011); and The Four Saints in Three Acts opera collaboration with SF/MOMA (2011). In February 2012 Opera Parallèle embarked on the world premiere of the chamber orchestration of John Harbison’s opera The Great Gatsby. 2013 was a year filled new works from Osvaldo Golijov’s riveting opera Ainadamar and Opera Parallèle’s Graphic Opera Project Gesualdo – Prince of Madness. In addition, Opera Parallèle thrilled audiences with Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti. In 2014, Opera Parallèle presented Mahagonny Songspiel (Kurt Weill) in conjunction with Les Mamelles de Tirésias (Francis Poulenc) which was a huge success, and Anya 17 (Adam Gorb), an intense, moving, new opera. In 2015, Opera Parallèle brought back a “masterful and remarkably potent revival” (Joshua Kosman) of Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, and an almost entirely sold-out run of Tarik O’Regan’s Heart of Darkness. In the 2015/16 season, OP collaborated with SFJAZZ for 8 sold-out shows of Champion: An Opera in Jazz by Terence Blanchard, and presented Peter Maxwell Davies’ mystery thriller The Lighthouse. The 2016/17 season begins with a third Hands-on-Opera commission, Xochitl and the Flowers, followed by Jonathan Dove’s Flight in February 2017, and Les Enfants Terribles by Philip Glass in honor of the composers 80th birthday.
Opera Parallèle has also earned significant national and international attention for its high-impact production and performance style. OP was awarded the First Prize in the Professional Performance category from the National Opera Association’s Opera Production Competition in two successive years, for its Orphée and Gatsby productions.
OP also develops new works and new modes of presentation through its Opera Lab project. In 2015, Opera Lab worked to use projections and other visual media in innovative ways for the May production of Tarik O’Regan’s Heart of Darkness.
Eager to expose the Bay Area’s youth and adults to contemporary opera, Opera Parallèle 3-tiered educational outreach program introduces opera, in depth, to a wide range of age groups.
Opera Parallèle, in its very name, is committed to collaboration with Bay Area artists and institutions. Institutional collaborators have included SFMOMA, the de Young Museum, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the California Academy of Sciences, the San Francisco Girls Chorus, La Tania Baile Flamenco, the San Francisco Public Library, SFJAZZ, and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
Terence Blanchard’s Champion:
“Fearless, graceful, full of sly musical feints and bravura dramatic feats, Champion – “An Opera in Jazz” scored a resounding triumph on its opening weekend at the SFJAZZ Center. Anyone in doubt about the power of great music theater to reach and move an audience at the deepest levels must see and hear this remarkable hybrid opera.”
–Steven Winn, SF Classical Voice
Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking:
“Opera Parallèle reintroduced Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally’s Dead Man Walking this past weekend in an extraordinary production presented at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater. The opera was well served by the more intimate venue, which enlarged the internal struggles of the characters and allowed the audience to feel closer to the many nuances of those emotions.”
–Jaime Robles, BachTrack
Poulenc/Weill Double Bill:
“Sunday afternoon’s performance – the last of three at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts – was a small miracle of theatrical inventiveness and musical delight. And it demonstrated yet again why this company, led by Artistic Director and Conductor Nicole Paiement along with her husband, stage director Brian Staufenbiel, has quickly become one of the Bay Area’s most indispensable artistic assets.”
–Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle
Virgil Thomson/Gertrude Stein’s Opera, Four Saints in Three Acts:
“Ensemble Parallèle (currently Opera Parallèle), a San Francisco-based producer of avant-garde operas, captures much of the madness of the heavily abstract work with a playful, exquisitely sung and elegantly designed production.”
—Chloe Veltman, The Bay Citizen
Philip Glass’s Opera Orphée—San Francisco Premiere:
“Orphée Triumphant” “Ensemble Parallèle (currently Opera Parallèle), a San Francisco company devoted to contemporary chamber opera, scored a full-on triumph over the weekend…ravishing and delicate, haunting and playful, somber and romantic, the production fused story, music and stagecraft into an engrossing evening of music theater.” —Steven Winn, San Francisco Chronicle
Alban Berg’s Opera Wozzeck—California Premiere of John Rea’s Chamber:
“Ensemble Parallèle’s (currently Opera Parallèle) oft-devastating, 90-minute multimedia wow of a production was whole and complete unto itself. (…) Brian Staufenbiel paid equal attention to Wozzeck’s musical and theatrical elements. Ensemble Parallèle played as if on fire. (…) Paiement‘s achievement was staggering.”
—Jason Victor Serinus, San Francisco Classical Voice.
Lou Harrison’s Opera Young Caesar—World Premiere:
“Spangly percussion sounds and Asian scales bejewel the score [of Lou Harrison’s Young Caesar], and the performance by conductor Nicole Paiement and the Ensemble Parallèle (currently Opera Parallèle) brought out the music‘s seductive charms.”
—Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle