Meetings drenched in historical import between political heavyweights from opposing nations make a decent enough subject for a full-blown opera, as Berkeley composer John Adams so amply demonstrated with 1987's "Nixon in China."
Now comes a smaller-scale offering on a similar theme with heavy involvement of the Bay Area-based singer who starred as Mao Tse-tung when "Nixon" had its world premiere at Houston Grand Opera.
Tenor John Duykers, who reprised his Chairman Mao role in a Long Beach Opera production last year, is now up to his earlobes in a new chamber opera called "Daughter of the Red Tzar." He is not only one of its three principal singers, but also co-director of one of the work's presenting organizations, First Look Sonoma, a company devoted to developing new vocal works, especially by emerging composers.
"Daughter of the Red Tzar," by Tiburon-based composer Lisa Scola-Prosek, revolves around British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's first meeting with Joseph Stalin at the Kremlin in 1942 at the height of World War II. It makes its debut at 8 p.m. Friday in San Francisco's intimate Thick House theater in Potrero Hill, starring Duykers as Churchill and bass-baritone Scott Graff as Stalin.
Occasioned by Churchill's desperate need to get the Soviet leader's commitment to holding the line on the Eastern front, their meeting was an improbable, alcohol-fueled 24-hour episode that also involved Stalin trotting out his
Scola-Prosek, whose ScolaVox is the co-presenter of the opera, researched her libretto by combing through the memoirs of both Churchill and Svetlana Alliluyeva, who famously defected to the United States in 1967 and lived here as Lana Peters until her death in Wisconsin last year. Told from the perspective of the teenage girl, sung by soprano Crystal Philippi, the opera's story also involves her romance with a much older married man whom an enraged Stalin has banished to a labor camp as a British spy.
With music infused with both British and Russian tonalities and folk melodies, the score is set for a small ensemble -- violin, cello, mandolin, accordion, piano and percussion.
Melissa Weaver, Duykers' wife and co-founder of First Look Sonoma, directs the production, which will be conducted by Martha Stoddard. Also starring are well-known bass-baritone Philip Skinner, a former San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow, who will sing the role of Svetlana's lover, Alexei, and mezzo-soprano Valentina Osinski, who appears as Nadya, the ghost of Svetlana's dead mother.
There will be five repeat performances of "Daughter of the Red Tzar" following Friday's premiere, at 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and Aug. 31, Sept. 1 and Sept. 2. The Thick House is at 1695 18th St. in San Francisco. Tickets, at $30, can be purchased at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/251891. For more information, check www.scholavox.org.
MOZART A LA CARTE: No one appears to have cornered the market on live opera this weekend. Goat Hall Productions, the San Francisco-based cabaret opera outfit whose past productions have included concert versions of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's "The Three Penny Opera" and a Valentine's Day "Pick Your Own Aria" party, have two Opera a la Carte performances coming up in Berkeley and San Francisco. It's an all Wolfgang Amadeus program featuring preview scenes from Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte," plus selections from "The Marriage of Figaro," "The Magic Flute" and "Don Giovanni." Friday night's performance is at 8 p.m. at Berkeley Arts Festival, 2133 University Ave.; on Saturday, the party moves to San Francisco for 2 p.m. performance at the Community Music Center, 544 Capp St. Seating is cabaret style, and champagne and "assorted sweets" will be served. Tickets are $15 general, $10 for students and seniors, available at the door or at www.goathall.org.
THE DUDE IN AUSTRIA: You can catch fiery Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor Gustavo Dudamel with his guest conductor baton in hand, leading the world-famous Vienna Philharmonic through a dizzying, waltz-happy program called "Dances & Waves" by tuning in KQED Channel 9 at 9 p.m. on Aug. 31. The "Great Performances" program is a telecast of a concert that took place in the moonlit baroque gardens of the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna on the night of June 7. Dancers of the Vienna State Opera Ballet join the orchestra, with music by Debussy (including "La Mer"), Tchaikovsky, Borodin, both Richard and Johann Strauss, Ponchielli and Gimenez.
Contact Sue Gilmore at email@example.com.