PRODUCTION: Heart of Darkness

Kirshimage1 resizedOVERVIEW

In May, 2015, Opera Parallèle (OP) presented the American Premiere of Heart of Darkness by British composer Tarik O’Regan and librettist Tom Phillips. The work was performed at San Francisco’s Z Space, a former warehouse that has been converted to a flexible performance space making this production space site specific – an important factor for our cutting-edge productions.

Based on the novella by Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness is a powerful opera that portrays the greedy world of ivory smugglers in Central Africa as narrated by the central character, Marlow. The plot unfolds through a series of short, fast-paced scenes that gradually increase in tension, as Marlow’s tale approaches its climax.




WHERE: Z Space, 450 Florida Street, San Francisco
WHEN: May 1, 2015 – 8pm
May 2 – 2pm, 8pm
May 3 – 2pm



Heard of Darkness Kish

Artwork by Matt Kish

The opera opens with two snapshots: first Marlow, an old sea-captain, in a moment of recollection; next, a fragment of a mysterious encounter many years earlier, whose meaning only becomes clear at the end. The action takes place concurrently on a ship, moored in the Thames Estuary, and, many years earlier, during Marlow’s expedition to Central Africa.

Marlow is among a small group of passengers aboard a ship moored in the Thames one evening, waiting for the tide to come in. He starts to relate the tale of his travels as a young man, when he sailed upriver in the equatorial forest of an unnamed country in Central Africa (which closely resembles the Congo Free State, a large area in Central Africa controlled by King Leopold II of Belgium from 1885-1908).

He has been sent there to find Kurtz, the enigmatic and once idealistic ivory trader rumored to have turned his remote Inner Station into a barbaric fiefdom. Marlow’s journey starts in the Company’s offices in Europe, where he is given his instructions and a perfunctory medical check, before he departs for Africa.

He arrives first at the Downriver Station and encounters the Accountant who first mentions Kurtz. Marlow then comes to the Central Trading Station where he meets the Manager who will accompany him on the voyage. The expedition is delayed because the steamboat on which they will sail is damaged. Waiting for vital spare parts to arrive, Marlow befriends the boilermaker, who sheds more light on Kurtz.

Marlow finds a cryptic note dropped by the Manager, which hints at Kurtz’s instability. The missing rivets arrive and the boat is fixed. The voyage progresses briskly, despite being attacked by unknown assailants. Eventually Marlow and his entourage arrive at the Inner Station, where Kurtz is based, together with his peculiar acolyte, the Harlequin. The Manager finds Kurtz’s enormous hoard of ivory which he hurriedly carries onboard the boat.

At last Kurtz appears. He is gaunt, thin and ill. He has a letter to give Marlow. A mysterious River Woman sings a lament.

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The Harlequin reveals that it was Kurtz who ordered the attack on Marlow’s steamboat. Marlow and Kurtz speak for the first time. Marlow sees Kurtz is on the edge of madness. He must be taken back downriver. On board the steamboat Kurtz becomes delirious, reflecting incoherently on his imperious ideas and deeds as the boat sails away from the Inner Station. Eventually Kurtz dies, uttering “The horror! The horror!”

We now witness in full the fragment of conversation seen at the start: back in London, Marlow meets Kurtz’s fiancée to pass her the letter that Kurtz had entrusted to him. Despite all that he has seen and understood, Marlow is unable to bear witness to the truth. He is unable to tell her Kurtz’s final words. We in turn see that Marlow himself has played his part in maintaining the secrecies of horror he finds so abhorrent.

Back on the Thames Estuary, the tide has risen. Marlow’s tale is at an end. His isolation from the truth of his actions and the atrocities witnessed – that “vast grave of unspeakable secrets” in which he speaks of being “buried” – is borne out in his epilogue: “we live, as we dream, alone”.



(In Order of Appearance)

Marlow: Isaiah Bell
Fiancée: Heidi Moss
Thames Captain: Daniel Cilli
Secretary/Manager: Jonathan Smucker
Doctor/Boilermaker: Aleksey Bogdanov
Chief Accountant/Helmsman: Michael Belle
River Woman: Shawnette Sulker
Harlequin: Thomas Glenn
Kurtz: Philip Skinner


Bell thumbnailISAIAH BELL (TENOR) MARLOW will perform this year in New York’s Mostly Mozart Festival as Damon in Mark Morris’ staging of Acis and Galatea, Benjamin’s Written on Skin with the Toronto Symphony, Lechmere in Owen Wingrave at the Edinburgh Festival, Romeo et Juliette and Honegger’s L’Aiglon with Nagano and Orchestre symphonique de Montréal and his Bach Choir of Bethlehem debut.  He has also performed with the Vancouver Symphony in Mendelssohn’s Lobgesang, Mozart’s Requiem with the Colorado Symphony, and Messiah with the New Jersey Symphony and Orchestre Symphonique de Trois Rivieres.


Cilli thumbnailDANIEL CILLI (BARITONE) THAMES CAPTAIN will perform Kurt Rhode’s Death With Interruptions (Left Coast Chamber Ensemble), John Glover’s Natural Systems (BluePrint Concert Series), Marullo in Rigoletto (Opera San Jose, Opera Santa Barbara), and Javert in Les Misérables (Utah Festival) in the 2014-15 season. Previously at Opera Parallele: the title role in Gesualdo: Prince of Madness, and multiple roles in Mahagonny Songspiel/Les mamelles de Tirésias. Other appearances include West Edge Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Central City Opera, Utah Opera, and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.


Smucker thumbnailJONATHAN SMUCKER (TENOR): MANAGER/SECRETARY recently debuted at Lincoln Center in Handel’s Teseo with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. He appeared with Opera Parallèle as Older Brother (Dead Man Walking), St. Chavez (Four Saints in Three Acts), and Dionysus (Young Caesar). He has sung with West Edge Opera, Opera San Jose, Townsend Opera, and West Bay Opera. His roles include Don Ottavio (Don Giovanni) and Tamino (Die Zauberflöte). This season he will join Oakland East Bay Symphony in Bernstein’s Candide.


Aleksey BogdanovALEKSEY BOGDANOV (BARITONE) DOCTOR/BOILERMAKER – Recent engagements include Sharpless in Madama Butterfly and Samuel Griffiths in An American Tragedy at The Glimmerglass Festival, Escamillo in Carmen with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and The Atlanta Opera, Belcore in L’elisir d’amore with Washington National Opera, and his Canadian debut as Eugene Onegin with Edmonton Opera. Future engagements include Escamillo in Carmen, Peter in Hansel and Gretel, and John A. Rawlins in Appomattox, all with Washington National Opera. He is a Career Grant recipient from the San Francisco Opera Merola Program, the Sullivan Musical Foundation, the Shoshana Foundation, and Pasadena Opera Guild.


Belle thumbnailMICHAEL BELLE (TENOR) CHIEF ACCOUNTANT/HELMSMAN recently performed Norfolk in Elisabetta (West Edge Opera), Ralph Rackstraw in HMS Pinafore (Lamplighter), Hoffmann Les contes d’Hoffmann (San Francisco Parlor Opera), Nemorino in L’Elisir d’amore (Pocket Opera), Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus (Longwood Opera, Opera del West), solos in Porgy and Bess (Lyric Opera of Chicago, Washington National Opera), Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni (Center Stage Opera), Andy in Treemonisha (Opera Providence), in spring 2009 he debuted in the chorus of San Francisco Opera.


Skinner thumbnailPHILIP SKINNER (BASS-BARITONE) KURTZ recently sang the Marquis de la Force in Dialogues of the Carmelites at the Metropolitan Opera, Wotan/Gunther in the Mini-Ring with Minnesota Concert Opera, Iago in Otello and Death in Emporer of Atlantis with Festival Opera, Scarpia in Tosca with West Bay Opera, Sparafucile in Rigoletto and Alidoro in Cenerentola with Livermore Valley Opera, and Henry in End of the Affair with West Edge Opera.  He returns to San Francisco Opera this season in Les Troyens.



Glenn ThumbnailTHOMAS GLENN (TENOR) HARLEQUIN has performed at San Francisco Opera, Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Netherlands Opera, English National Opera and with Atlanta Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, National Arts Centre Orchestra of Canada, San Francisco Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Colorado Symphony and Berkeley Symphony. Glenn won a Grammy Award for his participation in the Metropolitan Opera production of John Adams’ Doctor Atomic. Roles this season include Jonathan Dale in Kevin Puts’ Silent Night (Cincinnati Opera), Lindoro in Rossini’s L’italiana in Algerì (Opera Middlebury).


Anya17 Sulker Opera ParalleleSHAWNETTE SULKER (SOPRANO) RIVER WOMAN acclaimed for her “heart-breaking poignancy” and “beautifully tuned soprano,” Ms. Sulker has sung with the San Francisco Opera, Mark Morris Dance Group, American Bach Soloists, Hawaii Opera Theatre, Eugene Symphony, and Opera Naples to name a few. International credits include singing Adele in Die Fledermaus (Internationale Opera Producties), and Prague’s Smetana Hall. Upcoming, she will perform Cunegonde in Candide (Pasadena Opera, Oakland East Bay Symphony), debut as Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos (Festival Opera), and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (Santa Rosa Symphony).


Moss thumbnailHEIDI MOSS (SOPRANO) FIANCÉE, noted for her “rich and radiant soprano,” is thrilled to return to Opera Parallèle where she last performed the role of St. Theresa in Four Saints and Three Acts.  She is an active performer and proponent of new music, premiering works by Hagen, Getty, Erickson, Heggie, and others.  Heidi holds a biology/music degree from Oberlin and was a research scientist.  She teaches at SFCM and is the proud mother of two girls.





Tarik O'ReganTARIK O’REGAN (COMPOSER) Recent recognition: two GRAMMY® nominations (including Best Classical Album) for Threshold of Night, two British Composer Awards, Gramophone Award nomination for Scattered Rhymes, NEA Artistic Excellence Award and South Bank Sky Arts Award nomination for Heart of Darkness.

Current and future commissions: Suite from Heart of Darkness for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; a full-length ballet for the Dutch National Ballet; large scale new works for the Hallé Orchestra, American Opera Projects and the University of Michigan.

Recent projects: two North African-influenced compositions (Raï, for the Dutch National Ballet, and Chaâbi, commissioned by the Australian Chamber Orchestra) in 2012; a third solo album on the Harmonia Mundi label, Acallam na Senórach, and the premiere of Heart of Darkness at the Royal Opera House, London in 2011.

Life and work: O’Regan grew up in London, where he was born in 1978, spending some of his childhood in Morocco and Algeria. Since 2007, he has divided his time between New York City and Cambridge, England. His music, recorded on over 25 albums, is published exclusively by Novello & Co./G. Schirmer, Inc.



phillips thumbnailTOM PHILLIPS (LIBRETTIST) was born 1937 and is one of Britain’s premier artists with an international following. He is a Royal Academician and best known for his use of text within artworks, as in his treated novel A Humument (Thames & Hudson 1980, revised 2005). He is a visitor at the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton on a regular basis and is also well known as a writer and composer in his own right. His own opera, Irma, has been frequently performed and twice recorded; he has also acted as set designer for English National Opera.





NICOLE PAIEMENT (CONDUCTOR/ARTISTIC DIRECTOR/FOUNDER) has gained an international reputation as a conductor of contemporary music and opera. Her numerous recordings include many world premiere works and she has toured extensively in the US and Asia.  Paiement is an active Guest Conductor. She has recently been appointed Principal Guest Conductor at The Dallas Opera where she recently conducted  the world premiere of Joby Talbot’s opera  Everest.  Other productions under her baton include Peter Maxwell Davies’  The Lighthouse and Machover’s Death and the Powers.  Last December, she appeared as guest conductor with the Washington National Opera. Paiement and will guest conduct at the Saratoga Summer Festival this coming July.  Paiement is also the Artistic Director of the BluePrint Project at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

BRIAN STAUFENBIEL (DIRECTOR/CREATIVE DIRECTOR/SET AND ART INSTALLATION DESIGNER) has helmed the direction and design of Opera Parallèle’s productions since 2007 and is an active cross-disciplinary director and designer. Recent guest directing includes the staging of Schoënberg’s Pierrot Lunaire; the world premiere of Allen Shearer’s  The Dawn Makers;  the Korean premiere of David Jones’ Bardos; and the Australian premiere of Hi Kyung Kim’s Rituel III. This year, Staufenbiel designed and directed the world premiere of Angel Heart, performed in both Berkeley and New York City. He  shared a residency at Banff with composer Luna Pearl Woolf to create an original theater piece for Percussion, Violin and Cello which was premiered this May in Montréal.  Staufenbiel is also the director of the opera program at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

LAURA ANDERSON (STAGE MANAGER) In addition to her work with Opera Parallèle, Laura Anderson’s recent projects include productions with Rork Music, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and TEDx Berkeley. Anderson was the production stage manager for the live performance portion of the Emmy-nominated Twin Cities Public Television documentary, Parables, featuring the opera of the same name by Robert Aldridge and Herschel Garfein. She holds a doctorate in opera studies from the University of Minnesota.

MATTHEW ANTAKY (LIGHTING DESIGNER) has created and collaborated on many installations, scenic, and lighting designs for all of the performing arts including dance, opera, theater, and music for nearly 30 years. In addition to Opera Parallèle productions, his design credits for opera include Utah Opera and Symphony, Opera Pacific, Festival Opera, Dallas Symphony, Opera San Jose, the Cabrillo Music Festival, and The Oakland Symphony. His extensive history of dance design has made him an eight-time nominee (1999–2013) and four-time recipient of the Isadora Duncan Award.

FRÉDÉRIC O. BOULAY (PROJECTION DESIGNER) Frédéric Boulay’s design work is at the intersection of art, technology and innovation. Frédéric loves challenges and to push boundaries of what can be done on stage using new technology. He’s worked with companies such as Rork Music, TEDx, Youth America Grand Prix, West Bay Opera, Oakland School for the Arts to name a few; his designs have been seen throughout San Francisco, the Bay Area, as well as New York City. Frédéric is a native of France; he is a member of United Scenic Artist Local 829 and holds both a Masters of Arts in Theatre Design & Production and an Executive MBA. He is a native of France & the owner and founder of Oaktown Productions, which provides design services & production management for performing arts organizations since 2005.

CHRISTINE CROOK (COSTUME DESIGNER) began designing costumes for Opera Parallèle in 2011. Crook’s designs are also seen all over the Bay Area with companies like Magic Theatre, Marin Theatre Company, Cal Shakes, Shotgun Players, Encore Theatre, Aurora Theatre, Boxcar Theatre, San Francisco Playhouse, UC Berkeley, Center Repertory, Just Theater, Festival Opera, and Berkeley Playhouse. She also designed costumes for Lucia di Lammermoor with LA Opera for their 2013/14 season.

DAVID MURAKAMI (MEDIA DESIGNER) is a film director, writer, and theatrical multi-media designer working towards integrating innovative technologies with traditional performance on stage. Other projection/media design: Trouble in Tahiti, Les Mamelles de Tirésias/Mahagonny Songspiel, Anya 17, Flying Karamazov Brothers Reunion Tour, Valley of the Heart (Dir. Luis Valdez), and Tartuffe. David is currently directing his fifth feature film Private Eyes and returning to University of California, Santa Cruz to pursue a Master’s Degree in Theatrical Direction and Media Design. He is delighted to be returning to Opera Parallèle for a third season.

KEISUKE NAKAGOSHI (OPERA PARALLÈLE RESIDENT PIANIST) has performed on concert stages across the United States, including the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, and Davies Hall. He recently made a solo debut with San Francisco Symphony performing Ingvar Lidholm’s Poesis with Herbert Blomstedt conducting. Since 2009, he has been a member of ZOFO, a Grammy nominated piano four-hands ensemble, recognized for its artistry and innovative programming. Nakagoshi is also pianist-in-Residence at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

JEANNA PARHAM (WIG AND MAKEUP DESIGNER) began her career in San Jose where she designed for many South Bay theaters. Since moving to San Francisco, in addition to Opera Parallèle, she has been creating designs for the American Conservatory Theater, Opera San Jose, TheatreWorks, Broadway by the Bay, and the University of California, Santa Cruz Opera Theater. Ms. Parham is also the head of the Wig and Makeup Department for the San Francisco Opera.



Listen to a few clips of the opera from the premiere in London, 2011 with conductor Oliver Gooch.

[The music in Heart of Darkness] draws your ear into a magical and haunting sound-world, frequently sustained by a symphonic kind of writing for the voices – all of which places it head and shoulders among the vast majority of new music-theatre pieces that come along these days
Telegraph (2 Nov., 2011)


The sound-worlds [O’Regan] conjures up with the… percussion, woodwind, strings, harp, and celeste are very beguiling.
Independent (4 Nov., 2011)

O’Regan and Phillips have created an atmospheric psychological drama. Reflecting O’Regan’s transatlantic existence, his score references the anguished coiled chromatic vocal phrases of Benjamin Britten and the clean metrics of American minimalism, as well as including an exuberant dance to celebrate the arrival of vital, ship-repair-enabling rivets.
The Stage (2 Nov., 2011)




Initial research and development phases of Tarik O’Regan’s work were supported by AOP and OperaGenesis, the opera development program me of the ROH2 . AOP received an NEA award for developing the opera in 2006-2011.