SF Opera Orchestra enchants at Zellerbach Hall

sf opera.Terrence McCarthy
Terrence McCarthy/Courtesy

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When the lights turn off and the audience quiets down, most would find themselves in a movie theater with a coke in one hand and popcorn in the other. However, this last Sunday, dozens of people crowded around the famous San Francisco Opera Orchestra in Zellerbach Hall waiting for the first note to break the silence.

First, before you begin to imagine the fat lady singing, let me fill you in a bit: Not everything you see in movies is real.  Shocking, I know. So although it was the San Francisco Opera, there were neither viking hats nor pigtail braids to be seen. The ensemble consisted of mostly string with a dash of wind instruments playing together to unravel the beauty of symphonies composed by Sergei Prokofiev, Joseph Haydn and Luigi Cherubini. Since 1923, each musician  who has been privileged enough to contribute a single sound to the San Francisco Opera — one of the world’s leading producers of opera — has pioneered towards an innovating operatic repertoire. The orchestra flowed from movement to movement, each with a unique style ranging from the gentle plucking of the violins to the robust cellos tearing into the finale.  Along with making a name for the orchestra that draws people in like flowers to bees, the musicians all performed with such passion and energy that even their tapping feet incited my own to tap along.

The conductor encouraged all of us listening to fully immerse ourselves into the music as he did with every waving hand and flick of the wrist. Nicola Luisotti has been the director of the San Francisco Opera since 2009 and continues to garner praise from not only his audiences, but his critics as well. Sitting in the auditorium and watching him perform was more like watching a puppet master at work with a mind of a child. I say this in the most endearing way. The manner in which Luisotti moved his body connected each movement to the violins, the cellos, the violas, the clarinets and so on. It was as if his own body was an instrument and it alone was producing the beautiful music.

As a college student, it’s challenging to find time to listen to music without falling asleep from the tiring hours of work and study, but their aggressive approach to the delicate music had a greater affect on me than my morning cup of addicting caffeine. And like caffeine, the audience craved more after the first taste. To satisfy their need, Amit Peled, a well-known and equally as talented Israeli cellist performed solo pieces of Joseph Haydn’s compositions. Peled has walked the stages of the world’s major concert halls in New York, Paris, London and Berlin and was greeted with a roaring applause from the audience. With his rare Andrea Guarneri cello from 1689, the pedagogue gracefully played with eyes closed. The entire orchestra performed with sheets of music before them, but not Peled. He sat in front of the orchestra with nothing but his cello and a bow, and it didn’t seem so much that he was playing music, but more like he was bringing his passion for Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. I to life.

The pieces that were chosen by the orchestra had all that an audience would want: from the soft sounds of violins in Symphony No. I by Prokofiev to the bombastic finish in Cherubini’s Symphony. Though I am more of a classic rock girl, attending the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and listening to beautiful music performed by dedicated musicians was the perfect way to spend my Sunday afternoon. Even if it was missing a viking hat or two.