Opera Parallèle is taking you to the top of the world with its groundbreaking new film production of Joby Talbot’s Everest – a Graphic Novel Opera.

Based on the true stories of an ill-fated summit attempt known as the 1996 Mt. Everest disaster, this cutting-edge work fuses the dynamic aesthetics of the graphic novel with the power of the operatic voice. OP’s innovative approach integrates live singers into the animated space, reinventing the operatic experience beyond the stage.

CAST

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Jan Arnold - Sasha Cooke

Two-time Grammy Award-winning mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke is sought after by the world’s leading orchestras, opera companies, and chamber music ensembles for her versatile repertoire. She has sung at the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, English National Opera, Seattle Opera, Opéra National de Bordeaux, and Gran Teatre del Liceu, among others, and with over 70 symphony orchestras worldwide. She recently collaborated with 17 composers on a project called ‘Songs in a Time of Silence’ which will be released on Pentatone next fall. https://sashacooke.instantencore.com/web/home.aspx

Rob Hall - Nathan Granner

Nathan Granner TenorWorld-renowned leading tenor and producing artist Nathan Granner gained chart-topping success as a founding member of The American Tenors. In addition to singing roles like Puccini’s Rodolfo, Mozart’s Ferrando and Verdi’s Jacopo Foscari, he has originated numerous roles in world premieres, including Korey Wise in Anthony Davis’ 2020 Pulitzer Prize-winning opera The Central Park Five, and Aubrey Wells in Opera Parallèle’s beautiful work Today it Rains, by the Laura Kaminsky, Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reid team. https://www.ngranner.com

Beck Weathers - Kevin Burdette

Bass Kevin Burdette has impressed audiences around the world with his mellifluous voice and strongly dramatic characterizations, with the New York Times dubbing him “the Robin Williams of opera.”

Recent highlights include Señor Russell in Adès’s The Exterminating Angel and Stefano in The Tempest (Deutsche Grammophon, 2014 Grammy Award) with the Metropolitan Opera; Pangloss in Candide with Gran Teatre del Liceu; Doktor in Wozzeck with the Philharmonia Orchestra; and Stobrod in Cold Mountain with Santa Fe Operahttp://www.kevinburdette.com/index2.htm

Doug Hansen - Hadleigh Adams

Baritone Hadleigh Adams is delighted to return to Opera Parallele. Born in New Zealand, Hadleigh relocated to the US in 2012 after studying at London’s Guildhall School of Music & Drama. He is a former merola artist and San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow. Among his extensive performance history he has performed as a principal baritone at London’s Royal National Theatre, the Nederlandse Reisopera, Lincoln Center Festival, the San Francisco Opera, and the LA Philharmonic. His performances centre around the baroque, and modern operatic repertoires. http://www.hadleighadams.com

Guy Cotter, Mike Groom & Vocal Quartet - Bass - Matt Boehler

Matt Boehler is a singer and composer based in San Francisco. As a bass, he has appeared as a principal artist at The Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, Dallas Opera, Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, and Canadian Opera Company, and as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. As a composer, recent commissioners include Washington National Opera, Victory Hall Opera, Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, as well as mezzo Sasha Cooke.  https://www.mattboehler.com

Meg Weathers - Charlotte Fanvu

Charlotte is excited to be performing in her first opera! The 11-year-old San Francisco native began her vocal training at 6 years old with the Young Women’s Choral Projects of San Francisco. Charlotte loves the spotlight and enjoys being on stage singing, dancing, and acting. She is also an aspiring baker and hopes to find a way to combine her passions for the performing arts and baking when she grows up.  

Vocal Quartet - Soprano - Shawnette Sulker

Soprano Shawnette Sulker is acclaimed for her “beautifully tuned soprano” (San Francisco Chronicle) and for her “enchanting vocal splendor” (Leipziger Volkszeitung). Recent roles include Pip (Moby Dick), Clitennestra (Ifigenia in Aulide), Carolina (Il matrimonio segreto), and The Queen of the Night (Magic Flute). Internationally, she has performed in Holland, Belgium, Leipzig’s Gewandhaus, and Prague’s Smetana Hall. Ms. Sulker has sung with San Francisco Opera, American Bach Soloists, Mark Morris Dance Group, Hawaii Opera Theatre, Opera Memphis, Eugene Symphony, and Opera Fairbanks to name a few. https://www.shawnettesulker.com

Vocal Quartet - Mezzo Soprano - Whitney Steele

Whitney Steele, a mezzo-soprano from Portland, Oregon, received her Master’s degree at The San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Favorite roles include Hermia in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Nancy in Britten’s Albert Herring, Ottone in Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea, as well as Jane Austen heroine Fanny Price in the West Coast premiere of Jonathan Dove’s Mansfield Park. She can often be seen on stage at San Francisco Opera as a member of the regular chorus.  

Vocal Quartet - Tenor - Kevin Gino

American-Filipino Tenor Kevin Gino is proud and excited to join Opera Parallèle during this season. Originally from Los Angeles, Gino has been privileged to sing with ensembles such as Cal Bach Society, American Bach Soloists, Pocket Opera, Ars Minerva, Volti, and the SF Opera Chorus since he moved to San Francisco. A proud alumnus of the SF Conservatory of Music and Music Academy of the West, Kevin enjoys discovering works that challenge him, old and new. https://www.kevingino.com

CREATIVE TEAM

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Director & Creator - Brian Staufenbiel

Brian Staufenbiel is the creative director for Opera Parallèle where he has directed and spearheaded the conceptual designs of the company’s productions since it was founded in 2010. Specializing in multimedia, immersive, and interdisciplinary productions, he actively works across a wide range of artistic disciplines collaborating in film and with media designers, choreographers and dancers, circus and fabric artists, and designer fabricators. His progressive approach to stagecraft has garnered critical acclaim for many of the company’s productions, including WozzeckOrphée, Champion and Dead Man Walking. Read Brian’s full bio here

Conductor - Nicole Paiement

Conductor, Nicole Paiement has been widely acclaimed for her interpretations of a broad range of contemporary operas. As Founder and Artistic Director of Opera Parallèle in San Francisco, Mo. Paiement has conducted many new productions, commissions  and world premieres including Laura Kaminsky’s Today it Rains; John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby;  Adam Gorb’s  Anya 17; Tarik O’Regan’s Heart of Darkness;  Osvaldo Goljov’s Ainadamar and John Rea’s reorchestration of Wozzeck.  An active guest conductor, Mo. Paiement made her debut with Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2019 with Heggie’s Dead Man Walking and at L’Opéra de Montréal with the Canadian premiere of Benjamin’s Written on Skin in 2020. Other guest conducting engagements have brought her to Fort Worth Symphony, Atlanta Opera, Washington National Opera, Seattle Opera, Glimmerglass Festival, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Monterey Jazz Festival, and the Hollywood Bowl. Upcoming engagements include her UK premiere in June 2022, conducting Talbot’s Everest with the BBC Symphony at the Barbican Center, London. Mo. Paiement will also return to the Dallas Opera in April 2022 to conduct Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers. Mo. Paiement is also Principal Guest Conductor of The Dallas Opera, where she has conducted among other works, the US premiere of Michel Van der Aa’s Sunken Garden; Tod Machover’s Death and the Powers and Peter Maxwell Davies’ The Lighthouse. In, 2016. Mo. Paiement was awarded the American Composer’s Forum “Champion of New Music Award” for her outstanding contributions to contemporary music. In addition to being a leader in contemporary opera, Mo. Paiement is also a specialist in early 20th Century French music and regularly conducts from the Baroque and Classical repertoire.

Illustrator - Mark Simmons

Mark Simmons is a San Francisco-based freelance artist. His cartooning and sequential art work includes comics for publishers such as Capstone, Behrman House, Madefire, and Rebellion; animation and advertising storyboards; and graphic recording. He also teaches classes in comic art, figure drawing, and wildlife illustration for the Academy of Art University and local zoos and museums. http://www.ultimatemark.com

Cinematographer - David Murakami

David Murakami is a projection designer and film director focused on the union between the cinematic and theatrical. Past productions with OP include Dead Man Walking, Heart of Darkness, Champion, Flight, Les Enfants Terribles, and Little Prince. Additional credits include Minnesota Opera’s Das Rheingold and Elektra; and Luis Valdez’ Zoot Suit and Valley of the Heart. Others include Princess Cruises, Opéra de Montréal, and Arizona Opera. David also teaches at the University of California, Irvine. https://davidmurakami.com/projects

Audio Engineer - Miles Lassi

Miles Lassi, is an interdisciplinary artist based out of Oakland, CA. As a musician, has performed in over 150 cities throughout North America, Europe and Asia with many different ensembles ranging from the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall to the national tour of Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage.  https://www.mileslassi.com

Project Manager - Daniel Harvey

Daniel Harvey is a graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne, Australia and moved to San Francisco in 2017. Daniel’s background in set and costume design, and theatre production informs his current work as Artistic & Community Manager for Opera Parallèle’s. In addition, Daniel also works as a program direcotr for Intersection for the Arts, furthering their mission of supporting sustainable artistic practice in the Bay Area. Select theatre design credits: As Costume Designer: In the Penal Colony (Days & Nights Festival – Opera Parallèle); Tannhauser (Regent Theatre – Melbourne Opera); Loving Repeating (Vic Theatre Co – Melbourne Green Room Award Nomination); Xanadu: The Musical (Australian Premiere).  As Set Designer: Look Back in Anger (Fourth Wall Theatre, New Wimbledon London). As Assistant Designer to Richard Roberts: Fiddler on the Roof (TML). As Associate Designer to Leslie Travers UK: La Boheme (Malmo Opera, Sweden); Peter Grimes on the Beach (Aldeburgh, UK). As Associate Designer to Tobias Hoheisel: Don Carlo (Bolshoi Opera, Moscow). As Assistant to Christopher Oram UK: Uncle Vanya (West End); Privates on Parade (Michael Grandage Company); Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Broadway). As Assistant to Anna Tregloan: Spring Awakening: A New Musical (Sydney Theatre Company). Daniel has also worked as a lecturer and student mentor at the VCA/University of Melbourne, and currently serves on the board of LEVYdance.

Assistant Conductor - Jessica Bejarano

Jessica Bejarano is the founder and music director of the San Francisco Philharmonic! She also serves as music director of ELM Youth Orchestra, assistant conductor of Opera Parallèle and music director at Escuela Bilingue Internationale. Jessica is a regular guest conductor with the Antonio Soler Orquestra in Spain and has guest conducted in the Czech Republic, Venezuela, Spain, Bulgaria, Romania, Italy and Russia. She has held conducting positions with numerous orchestras throughout the Bay Area and United States. Jessica was named KQED Arts’ Bay Brilliant Top 10 Artists of 2018, was featured by PBS NewsHour as an emerging female conductor to watch and recently featured on NBC’s The Today Show with Natalie Morales as the “Woman Breaking Barriers as a Trailblazing Symphony Conductor.”

Production Manager - Tony Shayne

Tony has formerly toured with and served in the roles of PM/TD for ODC, REDCAT, and Rosanna Gamson/Worldwide, and worked at some of California’s best colleges including UCLA, CalArts, Berkeley & UC Davis. Recently he helped Music Academy of the West with the West Coast premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s Cold Mountain. When not working on a new production Tony has the pleasure of being a Lecturer at Stanford University where he endeavors to promote new and passionate advocates for dance, opera, and performance art. Now in his third year there, he enjoys teaching Hands-on Technical Theater, Lighting Design, and Producing, as well as working with student designers and technicians.

Composer - Joby Talbot

Talbot was born in Wimbledon in 1971 and studied privately with Brian Elias, before attending the Royal Holloway and Bedford New College and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama under Simon Bainbridge. 

Works include the opera Everest (2015), first performed by Dallas Opera; the trumpet concerto Desolation Wilderness (2006), first performed by Alison Balsom and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra; the choral piece Path of Miracles (2005), written for Tenebrae; and the madrigal The Wishing Tree (2002), commissioned by The King’s Singers. Other works include Worlds, Stars, Systems, Infinity, first performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra under Esa-Pekka Salonen at Royal Festival Hall in 2012, and Meniscus for Beijing’s National Centre for the Performing Arts 2013 World Environment Day celebrations. Talbot has also worked extensively in film and television, major credits including The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005), Son of Rambow (2007), Franklyn (2008) and The League of Gentlemen (BBC2 series, 1999–2002).

Talbot has written widely for dance, collaborations including Wheeldon’s Fool’s Paradise (Morphoses, 2007), McGregor’s Entity (Wayne McGregor | Random Dance, 2008) and Genus (Paris Opera Ballet, 2007) and Chamber Symphony for Medhi Walerski’s Chamber (Residentie Orkest/Nederlands Dans Theater and Norwegian Opera and Ballet, 2012).

Librettist - Gene Scheer

Mr. Scheer’s work is noted for its scope and versatility. With the composer Jake Heggie, he has collaborated on many projects, including the critically acclaimed 2010 Dallas Opera world premiere, Moby-Dick, starring Ben Heppner as Captain Ahab; Three Decembers (Houston Grand Opera), which starred Frederica von Stade; and the lyric drama To Hell and Back (Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra), which featured Patti LuPone. Other works by Scheer and Heggie include Camille Claudel: Into the fire, a song cycle premiered by Joyce di Donato and the Alexander String Quartet. Mr. Scheer worked as librettist with Tobias Picker on An American Tragedy, which premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 2005 and on Therese Raquin which was produced by the Dallas Opera in 2001. Other collaborations include the lyrics for Wynton Marsalis’s It Never Goes Away, featured in Mr. Marsalis’s work Congo Square.  With the composer Steven Stucky, Mr. Scheer wrote the oratorio August 4, 1964, for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. The work was nominated for a Grammy in 2012 for best classical composition. In 2015, Mr. Scheer collaborated with Joby Talbot on the opera Everest, based on the doomed 1996 Everest expedition. With Jennifer Higdon, Mr. Scheer wrote an operatic adaptation of Cold Mountain, which premiered in the summer of 2015 at the Santa Fe Opera. This work won the International Opera award, presented in London, for the best World premiere in 2015. Recently, along with Ms. Higdon, Mr. Scheer was nominated for a Grammy for his work on Cold Mountain for best classical composition. In December of 2016 Mr. Scheer and Jake Heggie premiered an operatic adaptation of It’s a Wonderful Life for the Houston Grand Opera. Also a composer in his own right, Mr. Scheer has written a number of songs for singers such as Renée Fleming, Sylvia McNair, Stephanie Blythe, Jennifer Larmore, Denyce Graves, and Nathan Gunn.  The distinguished documentary filmmaker, Ken Burns, prominently featured Mr. Scheer’s song “American Anthem” (as sung by Norah Jones) in his Emmy Award-winning World War II documentary for PBS entitled The War.

SYNOPSIS

From the shadows of Mount Everest, the spirits of all those who have died attempting to reach the summit sing to Beck Weathers, who is unconscious on the mountain’s South Col*. These ethereal spirits now turn their attention to Rob Hall, the expedition leader and guide, who is just reaching Everest’s highest peak at 2:30 p.m., thirty minutes past the safe turnaround time. Rob sees his client Doug Hansen a mere forty feet below.

The scene shifts back to Beck Weathers. In his unconscious, dreamlike state, the stranded climber hallucinates that he is enjoying a Texas barbecue in his backyard. Beck holds court and begins to describe his experiences on Everest. Suddenly, from the edge of Beck’s consciousness, the voice of his daughter Meg sings to him.

As we see Rob straining to help Doug reach the summit, time stops, and Doug sings an aria in which he describes the tormenting, deep-seated obsession that has led him to this moment. Rob takes a picture of Doug at the instant he has achieved his goal, and the guide is jarred by the memory of photographing his pregnant wife, Jan, before leaving their home in New Zealand for the Himalayas.

While Rob endeavors to get his client down from the summit of Everest, we see Beck lying, delirious, on the South Col. Once again, his daughter calls out to him in vain. From the depths of his consciousness, ruminations on his struggle with profound depression slowly merge with the memory of the events that took place on the climb earlier that same day.

Rob is increasingly desperate. He has a disabled client on the top of the mountain as the storm begins raging around them both. Jan, Rob’s wife, is contacted and told of her husband’s life-threatening situation.

Beck, beginning to emerge from his coma, sees the climbers on the South Col huddling together in a frantic attempt to survive the storm. Beck’s internal soliloquy slowly allows him to make sense of what is happening and comprehend the cold, hard truth: he is dying.

In a quartet, Doug, Rob, Jan, and Beck sing of their plight. As the quartet concludes, we see Rob propelling Doug toward a sheltered spot on the South Summit, where he hopes they can make it through the night.

Beck has finally awakened to the harsh reality that if he is going to survive another hour, he will have to save himself.

*The South Col is a mountain pass often used as the location for Camp IV, the final stop in the push to reach the summit.

WHAT IS A GRAPHIC NOVEL OPERA?

Opera Parallèle began developing this new genre of opera in 2013, based on a concept by Creative Director Brian Staufenbiel, with an exploratory performance combining specially commissioned illustrations projected during live performance. Working with Illustrator Mark Simmons and Cinematographer David Murakami, OP continues to push this new form by combining the power of musical storytelling with the dynamic visuals of graphic novels along with some movie magic. The creation begins with studio recordings of the singers, followed by an emotion capture process that forms the animated characters’ basis. The singers’ own movements control their characters’ animated expressions, creating an authentic experience for the audience.

THE OPERA

Everest premiered in 2015 under the baton of Opera Parallèle’s Artistic Director Nicole Paiement at The Dallas Opera, who commissioned the original work. Composer Joby Talbot and librettist Gene Scheer created the opera based on interviews with survivors of the ill-fated attempt to summit Mt. Everest. The original production received widespread critical acclaim and has gone on to be produced by opera companies across the US and Canada.

The story takes place on May 10 & 11, 1996, and follows the fates of three climbers Rob Hall, Doug Hansen, and Beck Weathers. Told in a non-linear fashion, the opera jumps between the climbers and their families at home. At its emotional core, this is a story about the value of each breath and step we take as humans. It explores both the cost of ambition and the collective hope we derive from challenging ourselves in the world’s most unforgiving places.

Talbot’s inspired orchestration takes a leading role in this work, combining classical instrumentation with unique electronic samples of shortwave receivers and the climber’s radio conversations. Taking inspiration from the slow cracking movement of glacial masses, Talbot gives voice to the mountain and creates a chorus of lost souls waiting for ‘another name’ to join them. This evocative music will be given a whole new dimension with OP’s graphic novel opera treatment. 

SUPPORTERS

Support for this production has been generously provided, in part, by; Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Amphion Foundation, Donna Dubinsky and Len Shustek, Bob Ellis, Ann & Gordon Getty Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation, San Francisco Grants for the Arts.