San Francisco, CA, September 3, 2020 – Opera Parallèle has made public plans for its 2020-2021 season that typify its hallmark creative, relevant and nimble style. Founder and Artistic Director Nicole Paiement and Creative Director Brian Staufenbiel have announced that the season will feature live performances in the late spring of 2021 including a new production in May of Philip Glass’ La Belle et la Bête inspired by and including the 1946 film by Jean Cocteau at the Castro Theatre. At Grace Cathedral in June, OP will present the west coast premiere of Lembit Beecher’s Sophia’s Forest–an innovative opera featuring unique sound sculptures created specifically for the work–which tells the story of the impacts of immigration on a young girl and her family. The OP season opens October 8, 2020, with a virtual gala featuring author Amy Tan and composer Stewart Wallace and the digital performance of a short “graphic novel” opera, Everest, conceived by Brian Staufenbiel and featuring excerpts from the Joby Talbot opera with libretto by Gene Scheer. Rounding out the season will be workshops continuing to develop Marcus Shelby’s Harriet’s Spirit, inspired by Harriet Tubman, to ready the work for presentation in 2021-2022. The season presenting sponsor is the Horizons Foundation.

“We are excited to explore new concepts in opera this year–from a graphic novel opera to new soundworlds–as we employ OP’s signature relevance and flexibility,” says founder and Artistic Director Nicole Paiement. “Our season features works that are about belonging. We all yearn to know—and create!—our place in the world. Our season offerings are related by themes that illustrate our common emotions, needs and experiences, and how our differences are what actually bring us together, not separate us.” About the uncertainty of live performances during the continuing COVID-19 related theater closures, Creative Director Brian Staufenbiel commented: “We have chosen to view this temporary period without live performances as an opportunity not to change how Opera Parallèle works, but to build on the creativity and flexibility that have been the foundation of our productions for a decade. We have always brought a site-specific approach to our performances, and now we must factor in important considerations like the prospect of continued social distancing into our plans. To that end, we have chosen venues that have a degree of flexibility that will work well with both small or large audiences and allow us to prioritize safety without compromising our high-level artistic experience.”

Nicole Paiement, Founder and Artistic Director Brian Staufenbiel, Creative Director

No boundaries
2020 Virtual Gala
honoring the Horizons Foundation
Thursday, October 8 5 pm
special benefit cocktail reception with author Amy Tan and composer Stewart Wallace. Tickets $100 per household
6 pm celebration for all (free and open to the public with advance registration)

For more information:
Proceeds benefit Opera Parallèle
Gala Chair: Alan Olejniczak

Featuring a “graphic novel” opera conceived by OP Creative Director Brian Staufenbiel based on Everest by composer Joby Talbot and librettist Gene Scheer; conducted by Nicole Paiement with graphic illustrator Mark Simmons and media designer David Murakami. Featuring mezzo-soprano Nikola Printz and tenor Nathan Granner.

Performances also include soprano Christabel Nunoo and baritone/Gala emcee Michael Mayes

Sponsored by First Republic Bank.

La Belle et la Bête
by Philip Glass based on the film by Jean Cocteau
Thursday, May 20, at 7:30 pm
Friday, May 21, at 7:30 pm
Saturday, May 22, at 7:30 pm

Castro Theater, 429 Castro Street, San Francisco, CA 94114
Tickets: $25-$95 on sale December 1 at

Jean Cocteau’s 1946 adaptation of Mme. Leprince de Beaumont’s fairytale masterpiece is a landmark of motion picture fantasy, with unforgettably romantic performances by Jean Marais and Josette Day. This timeless cinematic icon inspired Philip Glass’s 1994 opera of the same name.

For this groundbreaking fusion of opera and cinema, Glass stripped the original soundtrack to integrate his own music to be performed live with the film. Glass’s score incorporates the original spoken dialogue, now sung live to match the onscreen action. By transforming the characters of both the Beast and Belle from childlike figures to complex adult characters living in a surrealistic dream world, Cocteau transforms the tale into a surreal vision of death and desire, while exploring themes that continue to resonate today: identity, compassion and inner beauty.

With its new production of Glass’s La Belle et la Bête, Opera Parallèle will complete performances of the trilogy of operas the composer created as homage to Jean Cocteau films. OP presented Orphée in 2011 and Les Enfants Terribles in 2017.

Glass’s initial concept was for the opera to be performed by four singers taking on multiple characters along with a small instrumental ensemble while the film is projected in the background. With the permission of Philip Glass, the Philip Glass Ensemble, Janus Films, and the Cocteau Estate, Opera Parallèle has been allowed to develop a new hybrid approach for this production.

Using the film as the primary source, Creative Director Brian Staufenbiel and Media Designer David Murakami will at times ‘remove’ the actors from the original film and ‘insert’ the singers performing in real-time. This lateral character shift will use live motion-capture to place the singers into Cocteau’s world and by creating exact replicas of the film’s extraordinary costumes, live singers become perceived as interchangeable with the actors in the film. In addition, the singers will be staged using the beautiful Castro Theatre interior as part of the production’s scenic elements, such as singing from the Juliet balconies, and in front of the film being projected as a virtual set. Having singers move between the film and the stage evokes the magical mirrors in Cocteau’s film and will enhance the surreal aesthetic of the film. This new production will blur the boundaries of film and opera even further to create a transformed music theater, honoring two of the great artistic minds of modern times: Cocteau and Glass.

Creative Team
Nicole Paiement, conductor; Brian Staufenbiel, creative director; David Murakami, media designer; Yayoi Kambara, assistant director; Jessica Bejarano assistant conductor

La Belle: Rachel Schutz, soprano
La Bête: Hadleigh Adams, baritone
Le Père: Philip Skinner, bass-baritone
Félice/Adélaïde: Sabrina Romero-Wilson, soprano

Sponsored by the Horizons Foundation, Ann and Gordon Getty, and Steven and Diane Heiman.

Sophia’s Forest (West Coast Premiere)
by Lembit Beecher, composer, and Hannah Moscovitch, librettist

Thursday, June 17, at 8 pm
Friday, June 18, at 8 pm
Sunday, June 20, at 8 pm

Grace Cathedral, 1100 California Street, San Francisco, CA 94108
Tickets: $35-$95 on sale December 1 at

Sophia’s Forest explores both the lasting effects on families of the immigrant experience, and the ways in which children use their imaginations to deal with life challenges. The innovative opera tells the story of a young immigrant to the United States who survived a traumatic journey through the chaos of a civil war in her homeland. During the course of the opera, Sophia is seen as an adult remembering her childhood as a nine-year old recent immigrant to the US, and in flashback to a couple of years earlier, as a child escaping her homeland with her mother, Anna, 5 and sister, Emma.

A central part of the production are nine electronically-controlled sound sculptures placed throughout the performance space. The sound sculptures featured in Sophia’s Forest form part of the opera’s set as well as functioning as a large-scale musical instrument, blending with string quartet and percussion to create the musical landscape of the piece. The sculptures suggest the inner world of Sophia’s mind as she tries to process the trauma of her childhood escape from her homeland and the death of her sister. The sounds the sculptures create are a direct outgrowth of Sophia’s memories: bike wheels recall Sophia’s youthful adventures with her sister Emma, and wine glasses become a central part of her mother Anna’s life once the family moves to America. The sound sculptures were built in collaboration with the ExCITe Center at Drexel University, an interdisciplinary center for research and innovation that combines the arts and engineering.

Sophia’s Forest was first performed in September 2017 at Drexel University in Philadelphia by OP’s creative team.

Creative Team
Nicole Paiement, conductor; Brian Staufenbiel, creative director; Jessica Bejarano, assistant conductor; Jon Altemus and Brian Staufenbiel, set designers.

Sophia: Maggie Finnegan, soprano
Young Sophia: Erin Enriquez, actor
Emma: Allegra Kelly, soprano
Anna: Kindra Scharich, mezzo-soprano
Wes: Sidney Outlaw, baritone

Guest artists: The Del Sol String Quartet and Divesh Karamchandani, percussion

Sponsored by the Horizons Foundation, Paul King, and Bob Ellis.

Harriet’s Spirit
Workshop Development of composer Marcus Shelby’s and librettist Roma Olvera’s children’s opera inspired by Harriet Tubman.

Not A Public Event

November 13-14, 2020

Opera Parallèle continues the development of Harriet’s Spirit, an opera inspired by 6 the life of American abolitionist and humanitarian Harriet Tubman. Since its first performances in 2017, OP continues its commitment to this important opera this season by workshopping an expansion of the libretto and a new orchestration in preparation for a new production planned for the 2021/22 season. Harriet’s Spirit features original music by Bay Area jazz composer and bassist Marcus Shelby and a libretto by Roma Olvera as part of OP’s acclaimed Hands-On Opera program, which creates and presents accessible and sophisticated new music theater works in collaboration with younger singers during an intensive residency. Sponsored by Denise Young Smith and Blue Organza Productions, and the Sam Mazza Foundation.

The creative team features composer Marcus Shelby, librettist Roma Olvera, creative director Brian Staufenbiel, conductor Nicole Paiement, dramaturg L. Peter Callender, and creative contributor Denise Young Smith. The cast includes soprano Christabel Nunoo, mezzo-soprano Tiffany Austin and others to be announced.

About Opera Parallèle
Celebrating its 11th season in 2020-2021, award-winning Opera Parallèle develops and performs contemporary operas in a dynamic balance of known and new works, in new productions that shed light on their subject matter and engage audiences’ senses and sensibilities. Opera Parallèle is the only organization in the Bay Area presenting fully-cast and staged contemporary operas exclusively. Opera Parallèle also commissions new orchestrations of contemporary grand operas, to give a sense of intimacy to its productions and to give a new life to works which might not otherwise be performed.


Season details subject to change.