A boat that travels on dry land… Steampunk… A man giving birth to over 40,000 babies in a single day! Join Opera Parallèle on an unforgettable journey, as a theater troupe of desert wanderers sings the jazz-infused melodies of Kurt Weill’s Mahagonny Songspiel. They’re searching for paradise — and that now-rarest of commodities, water — in a shattered world. Along the way, they discover not paradise, but an audience for their performance of Poulenc’s outrageously surreal satire Les mamelles de Tirésias. Brian Staufenbiel’s scenic concept seamlessly melds the two works into one extraordinary operatic experience, under the brilliant musical leadership of Nicole Paiement. Be there!
About the Production
Mahagonny Songspiel/Les mamelles de Tirésias – Synopsis – The überstory
A nomadic theater troupe and a group of orphan children are traveling through dry land on a boat – now on wheels. They are in quest of utopia – water. As they travel through an electrified desert, the women lament the lack of whisky while the men gamble as they discuss the impoverishment of the people. Jimmy, now claiming to be God, questions the others before ordering them to hell. They respond that they cannot be sent to hell, since they are already there. As they travel, they encounter a nomadic tribe that trades found relic from the past and perform their cryptic play Les mamelles de Tirésias. The “play” is about the past excesses that brought about the world they now inhabit where overpopulation and global warming have depleted all the natural resources and made water the most scarce and valuable commodity.
The Surreal Play
The Theatre Director announces that a play will be given, whose aim is to reform morals and to encourage all to procreate.
Sick and tired of being a woman, and eager to practice any profession she chooses, Thérèse rids herself of her breasts and instantly grows a beard. No longer her husband’s wife, she will henceforth be known by her masculine name: Tirésias.
After arguing in a café, two drunk friends Presto and Lacouf kill each other in a duel. Tirésias, dressed as a man, and her husband, dressed as a woman, lead the townspeople in the mourning of Presto and Lacouf. The investigating Gendarme flirts with the husband (believing him to be a woman) while the people of Zanzibar salute their new general Tirésias for not wanting to bear children. The husband then declares that he will bear them himself. A newspaper woman decries a hoax and Presto and Lacouf come back to life, while all the townspeople express both interest and skepticism by this change of sex.
The play resumes with the cries of 40,049 babies borne in a single day by the husband. Interviewed by a journalist, the husband promptly throws him out when asked for money. The husband then creates a journalist son, who instantly tries to blackmail his own father. The Gendarme then threatens to arrest the husband for the sudden population increase. The husband responds that they can all be fed with ration cards from the Fortuneteller. The Fortuneteller appears and argues with the Gendarme and strangles him. She turns out to be Thérèse, back in female form. She and her husband reconcile, and the pair leads the townspeople in an ode to love, while instructing the audience to go out and make babies.
Return to Weill:
At the end of the play, the performing troupe leaves the orphans with the desert people and resumes their cyclical journey, searching for the water . . . “another day, another play, more orphans found along the way” . . .
Artistic Administrator, Jacques Desjardins shares his Insights on Les Mamelles de Tirésias and Mahagonny Songspiel.
When Poulenc met Weill: Looking Back at a Landmark Double Bill
Born a year apart, Francis Poulenc (1899 – 1963) and Kurt Weill’s (1900 – 1950) both came of age at the tail end of the First World War. Weill met Bertold Brecht in 1927 during the Weimar Republic regime, Germany’s experiment with democracy between the two wars. Although a period of unprecedented freedom and creativity, the Weimar Republic happened during the Great Depression, and Germany was hit particularly hard due to the harsh terms imposed on the country by the war’s victors. Therefore, Mahagonny Songspiel portrays the hopes the mythical town of Mahagonny holds for the protagonists: whiskey, good food, free love, and all that is pleasurable in life. Unsurprisingly, these hopes are shattered as reality reveals the town to be an illusion, “only a made-up word” to quote the libretto’s final line.
Meanwhile, Paris saw the birth of cubism and surrealism, two terms coined by French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, arguably one of the most influential icons of Parisian cultural life. The young Poulenc attended a performance of Apollinaire’s play Les Mamelles de Tirésias in 1917 but did not consider setting it into an opera until years later, ultimately finishing the score in 1944, at the tail end of the Second World War. The surrealistic text, written in 1903, was astonishingly ahead of its time, exhorting the French to have children, and comically yet matter-of-factly addressing issues of gender fluidity. Apollinaire added a somber prologue to the play after incurring a head injury while serving in the French Army, and this final version is the one that Poulenc set to music.
Poulenc intended his opera to convey the dark comedic undertones of Apollinaire’s text. When the work premiered in 1947, France was still recovering from the aftermath of the Second World War. The farcical exhortation to procreation can be interpreted as a call to solidarity toward rebuilding the country after suffering so much devastation. The gender-transformations of Thérèse into Tirésias, and of the Mari (The Husband) giving birth to forty thousand forty-nine children in one day, although clownish on the surface, foreshadow the seriousness of gender liberation activism of today’s LGBTQ rights movement. Humor is a great vehicle to transmit a revolutionary message.
When designing his concept for Opera Parallèle’s production, Creative Designer Brian Staufenbiel envisioned a post-apocalyptic world depleted of resources where people must make do with what they can find to survive. To weave both works together, Brian imagined a traveling theater troupe wandering around in their boat-theater in search of the next dwelling to entertain. In this hypothetical future, the boat, on wheels because there is no water to sail on, drifts in the perpetual desert in search of Mahagonny. Ultimately it “docks” in an undetermined location where a tribe of sand people welcomes the wandering minstrels. And that’s when the troupe performs Les Mamelles de Tirésias.
Coincidentally, Mahagonny Songspiel ends on the same note that launches Les Mamelles de Tirésias. So the two works were meant to be spliced together musically. More importantly, however, both works reflect peoples’ aspirations in search of better living conditions after periods of exceptional strife and depletion. Both works bring attention to injustices suffered by underserved populations. Whether in Berlin or Paris, both composers and both works feature flawed human beings in a quest toward freedom, self-realization, and legitimate recognition. They are therefore true odes to liberté, fraternité and égalité. How appropriate to celebrate Bastille Day!
Watch Tête à Tête en direct: Musical Insights from Nicole Paiement on Les Mamelles de Tirésias and Mahagonny Songspiel.
Artistic Director and Composer Nicole Paiement shares musical insights into OP’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Les Mamelles de Tirésias and Kurt Weill’s Mahagonny Songspiel. Watch it here!
Rachel Schutz is active both in the opera house and on the concert stage, having performed extensively around the United States, Europe and Asia. Notable appearances include the Ravinia Festival with James Conlon, Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall, Santa Fe Opera, Tanglewood Music Center, the Ojai Festival, Hawai’i Symphony Orchestra, Stockton Opera, the Dame Myra Hess Concert Series and the Boston Pops Orchestra. Ms. Schutz is also an avid supporter of new music and has worked with many composers.
Mr. Preisser was recently praised by the NY Times for his performance in the Pulitzer Prize winning Silent Night with Opera Philadelphia. Highlights include Figaro in Il Barbiere di Siviglia with Kentucky Opera, Danilo in The Merry Widow with Utah Festival Opera, Belco Albert in Werther with Minnesota Opera, Prince Ottokar in Der Freischütz with Des Moines Metro Opera,, and Falke in Die Fledermaus with El Paso Opera.
Has performed at the San Francisco Opera, The Metropolitan Opera, The Lyric Opera of Chicago, Netherlands Opera and The English National Opera among others. He frequently performs with the Atlanta Symphony as well as orchestras like The Cleveland Orchestra, the National Arts Centre Orchestra of Canada, San Francisco Symphony, and others. In 2012 he won a Grammy Award for his participation in the Metropolitan Opera production of Doctor Atomic.
Has appearances in 2013/14 that will include: Dandini in La Cenerentola with Livermore Valley Opera; the premiere of Oxford Companions by Giancarlo Aquilanti with Stanford University; Beethoven’s 9th at Spokane Symphony; and Javert in Les misérables with Utah Festival Opera. Mr. Cilli performed the title role Carlo Gesualdo in the premiere reading of Gesualdo, Prince of Madness by Dante De Silva for Opera Parallèle’s graphic opera project.
Is a current Adler Fellow with the San Francisco Opera. Adams made his US debut in the San Francisco Opera’s 2013 production of Les Contes d’Hoffmann in the roles of Luther and Schlémil. He performed the role of Christ in the Jonathan Miller directed season of Bach’s St Matthew Passion at the Royal National Theatre – London. He has performed at the Barbican Theatre, and in recital at Wigmore Hall, and St Martin in the Fields. Adams studied in his native country at The Opera Studio – Melbourne, the Franz Schubert Institut – Austria, and completed his Masters of Music with distinction at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama with Janice Chapman.
Recently performed Escamillo in Carmen with The Glimmerglass Festival, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, and The Atlanta Opera, Belcore in L’elisir d’amore and Don Giovanni with Washington National Opera, and made his Canadian debut as Eugene Onegin with Edmonton Opera. Future engagements include Sharpless in Madama Butterfly and Samuel Griffiths in Tobias Picker’s An American Tragedy at The Glimmerglass Festival, and Escamillo in Carmen with Washington National Opera.
Renée Rapier is a recent Adler Fellow where she sang Meg Page in Falstaff as well as roles in Rigoletto, Mefistofele, and Picker’s Dolores Claiborne. She made her debut at LA Opera in 2011 singing Stephano in Romeo et Juliette. Upcoming engagements include appearances at the LA Opera, the Ravinia Festival, Wolf Trap Opera, and Opera Theatre of St. Louis.
Founded Opera Parallèle with the primary intent of promoting contemporary music and opera. Paiement has since gained an international reputation as a conductor and specialist of contemporary opera and contemporary music. Her numerous recordings include many world premiere works and she has toured extensively in the US and Asia. As Artistic Director of Opera Parallèle, she conducted the 2007 world premiere of Lou Harrison’s Young Caesar, the west coast premiere of John Rea’s re-orchestration of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck (2010), the San Francisco premiere of Philip Glass’ opera Orphée (2011), the world-premiere performance of Jacques Desjardins’ re-orchestration of John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby (2012), the Bay Area premiere of Osvaldo Golijov’s Ainadamar (2013), and most recently Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti (2013). Paiement is an active guest conductor both in the US and abroad. In 2013 she conducted a new production of Peter Maxwell Davies’ opera, The Lighthouse for Dallas Opera and recently returned to Dallas this past February to conduct Tod Machover’s Death and the Powers. In December of 2014, she will also appear as guest conductor with the Washington National Opera. She will return to the Dallas Opera in January 2015 to conduct the world premiere performance of Joby Talbot’s opera Everest. Paiement is the Artistic Director of the BluePrint Project – a new music concert series sponsored by the San Francisco Conservatory of Music – where she holds the Jean and Josette Deléage Distinguished New Music Chair. She is also on faculty at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she conducts the orchestra and opera productions.
Has helmed the direction and design of Opera Parallèle’s productions since 2007 and is an active cross-disciplinary director and designer in the Bay Area and abroad. Known for utilizing cutting-edge design and adventurous stagecraft, his visionary productions have left an indelible impression on the San Francisco Bay Area opera scene. Staufenbiel has won both public and critical acclaim for his staging of the West Coast premiere of John Rea’s re-orchestration of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck (2010), Philip Glass’ Orphée (2011) which wove cirque acrobatics, kinetic staging, and floating film projections into a cohesive, surrealist tapestry. Virgil Thomson’s Four Saints in Three Acts, collaboration with Opera Parallèle and SFMOMA, and most recently the world premiere of the re-orchestration of John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby. As a guest director, Staufenbiel has worked on productions both around the Bay Area and internationally. These include his recent 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 Rituel III. Staufenbiel recently designed and directed the world premiere of the staged version of Angel Heart, performed in both San Francisco Area and New York City. Staufenbiel recently shared a residency at Banff with Composer Luna Pearl Woolf and Percussionist Krystina Marcoux to create an original theater piece for Percussion, Violin and Cello to be premiered this May in Montréal. Staufenbiel is also the director of the opera program at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
FRÉDÉRIC O. BOULAY, DIRECTOR OF PRODUCTION:
Frédéric Boulay has worked in symphony, theatre, dance and circus as director of production, project manager, technical director, and rigger in more than two hundred fifty productions in France and the United States since 1989. Recently, he has worked with Opera Parallèle, Festival Opera, Birmingham Opera, Santa Barbara Opera, Lamplighters Music Theatre, Oakland East Bay Symphony, World Music Festival, and Cirque du Soleil. He holds an MBA from the University of Utah.
Matthew Antaky has created and collaborated on installation, scenic and lighting designs for all of the performing arts including Dance, Opera, Theater, and Music for nearly 30 years. Design credits, other than Opera Parallèle, include Utah Opera, Opera Pacific, Festival Opera, Dallas Symphony, the San Francisco World Music Festival, Opera San Jose, the Cabrillo Music Festival and The Oakland Symphony. He is an eight-time nominee (1999 –2013) and four-time recipient of the Isadora Duncan Award.
Christine Crook 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. Outside of the bay she designed costumes for Lucia di Lammermoor with LA Opera for their 2013/14 season.
Dave Dunning is the head of Legend Theatrical design. He has been involved in the theater community throughout California, providing lighting design as well as scenic design and construction for a number of dramatic, and dance productions such as Twelfth Night, the West Coast premiere of Grace and Glory, Mendocino Music Festival’s award-winning Dame Edna: The Royal Tour. Dunning designed the sets for Opera Parallèle’s productions of Young Caesar and Orphée.
David Murakami is an award winning film director, writer, and theatrical multi-media designer working towards integrating innovative technologies with traditional performance on stage. He has designed experimental set-pieces ranging from the classic works of Henrik Ibsen, to the vaudeville reunion of the Flying Karamazov Brothers, to the science fiction of Ray Bradbury, and has directed diverse actors ranging from university students to members of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
KT Nelson, choreographer, is ODC/Dance Co-Artistic Director. She joined ODC/Dance in 1976 and has choreographed over 60 works. In 1986, Nelson choreographed and directed the company’s first full-length family ballet, The Velveteen Rabbit, which has since been performed annually in the Bay Area as well as toured nationwide, reaching an audience of over 350,000. Nelson has been awarded the Isadora Duncan award four times.
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 created designs for the American Conservatory Theater; TheatreWorks; Broadway by the Bay; Alameda Civic Light Opera; University of California Santa Cruz; Opera Theater; and Sacramento Civic Light Opera. She also works regularly as guest designer for many other companies in the Bay Area.