by Lembit Beecher
Libretto by Hannah Moscovitch
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
Details subject to change.
Sophia’s Forest tells the story of a nine year old girl, Sophia, who immigrated to the United States, having survived a traumatic journey through the chaos of a civil war in her homeland. Throughout the opera, Sophia, now an adult, revisits her childhood in a series of flashbacks as she escaped her homeland with her mother, Anna, and sister, Emma. Sophia’s Forest explores both the lasting effects on families of the immigrant experience, and the ways in which children use their imaginations to cope with trauma and find healing. These themes are part of family lore for both librettist and composer: Ms. Moscovitch’s great-grandparents escaped a wave of Eastern European pogroms to find their find their way to Canada while Mr. Beecher’s grandmother and two-year-old mother escaped Estonia during WWII, having survived both Nazi and Soviet occupations of their country. Details in Sophia’s Forest allude to the 1990s wars in the Balkans, but this is not a piece, as the news continually reminds us, that needs a specific setting to be relevant.
“A searingly introspective study on immigrant children, the opera was full of vocal lines reflecting psychological depths but also electronic music effects that added greatly to the dreamlike atmosphere.”
DAVID PATRICK STEARNS – THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER
The Sound Sculptures
Sound is an important mechanism for the character of Sophia to process memory and grief, as her mind tries to understand the trauma during her escape from her homeland resulting in the death of her sister. Nine electronically-controlled sound sculptures placed across the stage became a literal mechanism of sound and story-telling. Composer Lembit Beecher collaborated with the ExCITe Center at Drexel University, an interdisciplinary center for research and innovation that combines the arts and engineering. The sound sculptures represent the forest as part of scenic design as well as functioning as a giant musical instrument, interwoven with the string quartet and percussion to create the fantastical and dream-like musical landscape of the piece. 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 coping once the family moves to America.
Partnership with Grace Cathedral
Opera Parallele’s name comes from the idea that collaboration is central to our work. We work ‘in parallel’ with our community partners to build deep connections and understandings around our productions. OP is very intentional about curating repertoire that is socially relevant and provides opportunities for our audiences to explore and learn about important issues. As a company we value inclusion and innovation – values we see and admire in Grace Cathedral. The Cathedral’s leadership in mindfulness, social justice and well-being for San Francisco is an ideal complement to this production of Sophia’s Forest. As a company we believe in the unique power of music to communicate meaning and story, and see this belief manifested in the way Grace Cathedral shares its mission. The unique style of the Cathedral is also an ideal fit to OP’s performance aesthetic and will allow us the opportunity to create an intimate and immersive experience, for which we have become known. In 2014, OP partnered with Grace Cathedral to present a community conversation in relation to our production of Anya17 by Adam Gorb. We look forward to engaging with the Cathedral again in a strong partnership for our presentation of Sophia’s Forest.
Conductor | Nicole Paiement
Director/Production Concept | Brian Staufenbiel
Assistant Conductor | Jessica Bejarano
Set Designer | Jon Altemus
Set Designer | Brian Staufenbiel
Sophia: Maggie Finnegan – Soprano
Young Sophia: Erin Enriquez – Actor
Emma: Allegra Kelly – Coloratura
Anna: Kindra Scharich – Mezzo Soprano
Wes: Sidney Outlaw – Baritone
String Quartet: Del Sol Quartet
Percussion: Divesh Karamchandani
Sound Sculptures: Lembit Beecher
“The rest of the fine, understated score—atmospheric and sensitively deployed in terms of pacing the sung and spoken material—emerged from elaborately worked musical sculptural ‘tree’ units that Beecher controlled from a computer.”
DAVID SHENGOLD, OPERA NEWS
Lembit Beecher – Composer
Praised by The San Francisco Chronicle as “hauntingly lovely and deeply personal,” Lembit Beecher’s music combines “alluring” textures (The New York Times) and vividly imaginative colors with striking emotional immediacy. Noted for his collaborative spirit and “ingenious” interdisciplinary projects (The Wall Street Journal), Lembit is currently the composer-in-residence of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, having previously served a three-year term as the inaugural composer-in-residence of Opera Philadelphia. Born to Estonian and American parents, Lembit grew up under the redwoods in Santa Cruz, California, a few miles from the wild Pacific. Since then he has lived in Boston, Houston, Ann Arbor, Berlin, New York and Philadelphia, earning degrees from Harvard, Rice and the University of Michigan. This varied background has made him particularly sensitive to place, ecology, memory, and the multitude of ways in which people tell stories. Recent premieres include Say Home for the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, The Conference of the Birds for A Far Cry, One Hundred Years Grows Shorter Over Time for the Juilliard String Quartet, and Sky on Swings, a chamber opera for Opera Philadelphia starring Frederica von Stade and Marietta Simpson, with libretto by Hannah Moscovitch. Nominated for Best World Premiere at the 2019 International Opera Awards, Sky on Swings created a “shattering musical and theatrical evocation of what it feels like to have Alzheimer’s disease” (The Wall Street Journal). Many of Lembit’s latest projects involve the incorporation of untraditional elements into opera, symphonic works and chamber music, including baroque instruments, sampled interviews, animation, and technology. Recent honors include a MacDowell Colony Fellowship, the S&R Foundation Washington Award Grand Prize, and a major grant from Pew Center for Arts and Heritage to develop and produce Sophia’s Forest, a chamber opera for soprano Kiera Duffy, the Aizuri Quartet, and a multi-piece sound sculpture, built in collaboration with architects and engineers at the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University’s ExCITe Center.
Paul King | Bob Ellis