THE WALLIS ANNENBERG CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS
THE SING FOR HOPE PRODUCTION OF
THE LAST SORCERER (LE DERNIER SORCIER, 1867)
Music by Pauline García Viardot (1821-1910)
Libretto by Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883)
A World Premiere 155 Years in the Making
Babatunde Akinboboye, Baritone
Monica Yunus, Soprano
Camille Zamora, Soprano
Adriana Zabala, Mezzo-Soprano
Karim Sulayman, Tenor
Anastasia Malliaras, Soprano
Monique Coleman, Narrator
Los Angeles Children’s Chorus’ Chamber Singers
Fernando Malvar-Ruiz, Artistic Director
Musical Direction by Lucy Tucker Yates
Stage Direction by Sharyn Pirtle and Camille Zamora
Costume Design: Suzanne Vinnik
Assistant Direction by Sophia Roth
Production Intern: Amelie Kaufman
Production Cover (Stella, Verveine, La Reine): Julia Johnson
Production Artwork and Design by Students from Savanna High School (Anaheim) and Sing for Hope Lab (The Bronx)
As part of Sing for Hope’s 2022-2023 Company Residency at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, we were proud to present the Sing For Hope production of Pauline García Viardot’s salon opera, THE LAST SORCERER (LE DERNIER SORCIER, 1867), a world premiere 155 years in the making. The production, with musical direction by Lucy Tucker Yates, featured baritone Babatunde Akinboboye in the title role of the Sorcerer, Sing for Hope co-founder and soprano Monica Yunus as the bold young Stella, Sing for Hope co-founder and soprano Camille Zamora as the majestic Reine, mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala as the dashing Prince Lelio, tenor Karim Sulayman as Perlimpinpin, soprano Anastasia Malliaras as Verveine, Los Angeles Children’s Chorus’ Chamber Singers (Fernando Malvar-Ruiz, Artistic Director) as the woodland Fairies. and acclaimed actress/activist Monique Coleman (star of Disney’s High School Musical, among other hit shows) as Narrator.
One hundred fifty-five years ahead of her time, Pauline García Viardot wrote her masterwork salon opera, Le dernier sorcier (The last sorcerer), in 1867, centering themes of environmentalism and gender equality through a whimsical comic tale and poignant melodies. Written on a libretto by her lover, the great Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev, the work is a feminist eco-fable in operatic form. It was premiered to great acclaim with Viardot herself at the piano in her Baden-Baden villa, with her students filling the various colorful roles. After the work’s premiere, the original vocal/piano manuscript was held in a private collection for over a century, vanishing without a trace, until acquired several years ago by Harvard Library, which gave Sing for Hope Co-Founder Camille Zamora permission to transcribe, publish, and produce it.
The Sing for Hope production of The Last Sorcerer at the Wallis, directed by Zamora and Sing for Hope Director of Education Sharyn Pirtle, marks the premiere of Viardot’s work in its original form, with a stellar cast of internationally acclaimed artists. Zamora penned an English-language narration to be performed at The Wallis by Emmy-nominated actress Monique Coleman, punctuating the action story-book-style. A key aspect of the production design centers (as did Viardot’s life) on the creativity of children and youth, and their power to effect positive change in the world around them. The production’s design is created by students from Savanna High School (Anaheim) and Sing for Hope Lab (The Bronx) as part of Sing for Hope’s UN Sustainable Development Goal Arts Curriculum. The students’ designs will illuminate the opera’s themes through the prism of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, with particular focus on Goal 5 (Gender Equality) and Goal 13 (Climate Action).
Monica Yunus says, “We are thrilled to bring this magical work to life at The Wallis this season! As a cornerstone production of our Wallis Artist Residency this season, The Last Sorcerer hits our sweet spot: timelessly beautiful music with a powerful message of equity that resonates for today.” Continues Camille Zamora, “There could be no better way to celebrate Women’s History Month and our Artist Residency at The Wallis than with this rediscovered operatic treasure by one of the great unsung (s)heroes of the nineteenth century. We sense Pauline García Viardot smiling down on our rehearsal process!”
Sing for Hope is The Wallis’ 2022/2023 Season Company-in-Residence, and Yunus and Zamora are Artists-in-Residence. Sing for Hope is a leading “arts peace corps” that creates initiatives – including the Sing for Hope Pianos in parks and public spaces from Beverly Hills to the Bronx to Beirut – that promote the mission of art for all.
Program Note by Camille Zamora ~
Pauline García Viardot’s The Last Sorcerer: A Feminist Eco-Fable in Operatic Form
A recently rediscovered treasure by one of the most compelling artists of the nineteenth century resonates with themes that speak to us in the twenty-first.
One hundred fifty-five years ago, the great mezzo-soprano, composer, and pedagogue Pauline García Viardot created the salon opera Le dernier sorcier (The last sorcerer) in collaboration with her lover, the acclaimed Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev. The piece centered on themes of power and progress, gender and equality, and the restoration of natural order in an ever-changing world – a feminist eco-fable in operatic form.
Pauline García Viardot is the most famous Romantic heroine you’ve never heard of. She was born in Paris in 1821 to Spanish parents, the tenor-cum-impresario Manuel García and the soprano Joaquina Sitchez. She and her siblings, famed soprano María Malibran and baritone/teacher Manuel Patricio Rodríguez García, were groomed for a life in music. Pauline’s circle was a who’s who of nineteenth-century European artistic society: she studied piano with Liszt, co-authored mazurkas with Chopin, sang Tristan and Isolde excerpts with Wagner in her living room, hosted Charles Dickens and Henry James as house guests, and shared insights with her best friend George Sand. At the age of seventeen, Pauline debuted the role of Desdemona in Rossini’s Otello in London to great acclaim, and went on to create roles for many leading composers of the day, including Meyerbeer, Gounod, Berlioz, and Saint-Saëns, who dedicated his Samson et Dalila to her.
In 1843, Pauline began traveling regularly to perform in Saint Petersburg, where she met the great Russian man of letters Ivan Turgenev. Turgenev fell passionately in love with her mesmerizing voice, quick wit, and depth of spirit, and returned with her to Paris, where they shared their lives and families for the four decades that followed. They collaborated on several works for the stage, including Le dernier sorcier.
A chamber opera in two acts, Le dernier sorcier revolves around Krakamiche, a once-powerful sorcerer whose presence in the great woods has upset the fairies, the forest’s rightful inhabitants, and disturbed the harmony of the land. Through the combined efforts of the fairy folk and their queen, the sorcerer’s daughter and her prince, and a hapless valet, Krakamiche ultimately learns key truths about humility, love, and living in harmony with the natural world.
In soaring melodies and set pieces ranging from simple couplets to dramatic, quasi-Verdian ensembles, Le dernier sorcier holds its own among the remarkable operas of the period. At the work’s premiere in 1867 at Turgenev’s villa in Baden-Baden, Pauline played the piano (the sole instrument in the original score) and the roles were sung by her children and students. The audience consisted of leading figures of the day, including Liszt, Brahms, Clara Schumann, Hermann Levi, and Kaiser Wilhelm I, who hailed the piece as a treasure.
While there were several clumsily translated, poorly received German-language performances of the work in Weimar and Karlsruhe in 1869-1870, Le dernier sorcier has received next to no attention until now. Viardot’s original manuscript (scored for solo voices, treble chorus, and piano) was held in a private collection for over a century, and as such, the work essentially vanished. Recently, the original piano-vocal score was acquired by Harvard University’s Houghton Library, which gave us permission to produce this world premiere performance, as well as the recording of the work on Bridge Records. Our hope is that this evening will inspire future productions, and that more companies will consider Pauline’s work when programming future seasons. When The Metropolitan Opera performed Kaija Saariaho’s L’Amour de loin in 2016, it was only the second opera composed by a woman to be presented in the company’s 136-year history (the first, Ethel Smyth’s Der Wald, was presented in 1903). So, yes, unearthing and encouraging great work by women feels timely.
But just as important as its resonance with the current zeitgeist is this: Le dernier sorcier deserves our attention because it’s funny, fresh, poignant, and profound, and it conveys its big ideas in compelling, endlessly hummable ways. In its satire of tyranny, its focus on restoring a broken natural order, and its message of hope, it speaks to us in timeless ways. Delving into this piece is not a concession, not programming for politics’ sake. Pauline’s work is just plain good, and it speaks for itself.
In the thorny a capella Act 2 quartet, Stella and Lelio share their worldview: “After night comes daylight, after exile comes freedom, and from this point on, my entire life shall be called happiness.” These lovers aren’t blind to life’s difficulties. They know that “la nuit, l’exil” – the dark, alienating forces of the world – cannot be ignored or explained away. But with their eyes wide open, they determine to actively choose the path of happiness. This sense of self-determination and sheer joy courses through Pauline García Viardot’s music, elevating us. It reminds us, as the Fairy Queen sings, that there is always hope.
Select press excerpts:
San Francisco Classical Voice
“Sing for Hope’s impressive, environmentally conscious, community-involving presentation of The Last Sorcerer proved that you don’t need a fancy, bloated production to put on a fantastic show. Viardot’s opera holds its own against famous contemporaries, and companies would be remiss not to consider programming it in the future.”
“Friday night’s Sing for Hope production of The Last Sorcerer (presented by the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts) marked the triumphant, belated world premiere of Viardot’s original setting of the opera.”
“Nearly every aria in this opera is a banger. Viardot — herself a notable soprano and prolific composer of art songs — had a knack for finding the tune within a text.”
“Singing the title role was the unflappable baritone Babatunde Akinboboye, whose expressions of greedy hope and disappointment lent a sobering relatability to Krakamiche… Tenor Karim Sulayman had the audience in stitches as Perlimpinpin… Pure-voiced soprano Anastasia Malliaras was consistently captivating as the mischievous elf Verlaine… (Monica) Yunus’s effusive voice and acting were well suited for the idealistic, heart-on-her-sleeve Stella… (Camille) Zamora’s voice, warm and sweet, and intentional sense of movement gave her La Reine a compelling gravitas… Soprano Julia Johnson impressively covered the mezzo-soprano trouser role of Prince Lelio on only 36 hours’ notice (with) immaculate intonation and buoyant ornaments… The forest fairies (treble choir) were a delightful ingredient of the production. Sung by flower-crowned members of the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus’s Chamber Singers (led by Fernando Malvar-Ruiz), they made clever use of handmade props and acted as a peanut gallery, giggling and pointing fingers at the ineffectual sorcerer… Holding the show together was Lucy Tucker Yates at the piano, who provided musical direction and tirelessly accompanied the singers for 70 minutes… The exquisite costume pieces with strong silhouettes and bold colors were made by Suzanne Vinnik, who, in keeping with the “eco” theme of the opera, runs an ethical fashion label in L.A.”
Seen and Heard International
“Viardot and Turgenev’s creation has echoes of Mozart and Schikaneder’s The Magic Flute, with forest creatures, parents guiding or thwarting their progeny and romantic love that endures despite obstacles… It is a charming story with the feel of a Carlo Gozzi commedia dell’arte play, and hints of Turgenev’s Russian roots in the forest fairy tales that feature Prince Ivan, Father Frost, or the deliciously wicked Baba Yaga… As for the music, I was reminded, first and foremost, of Jacques Offenbach. His most famous opera, The Tales of Hoffmann, wasn’t performed until after his death in 1881, but Viardot would have been more than familiar with his earlier operas. Her adeptness at the French art song was evident in the score and heightened by the solo piano accompaniment, winningly played by Lucy Tucker Yates… Viardot’s mastery of the French art song was especially apparent in the Queen’s aria, ‘Ramasse cette rose’, sung with stately beauty by Zamora, and in Stella’s shimmering song, ‘Coulez, coulez gouttes fines,’ delivered to perfection by Yunus.”
“It would be delightful to see this gem in a full production…”
“For one night only, March 3, at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, an audience was able to experience what was billed as a ‘World Premiere 155 years in the making…’ The takeaway is that this 75-minute opera should really start getting staged…”
“The story is rather unusual, resonating uncannily with values perhaps more of our own day than of its own timelines… It does not take great leaps of imagination to conceive of the opera as a critique of European occupation and settler colonialism and the wasting of Indigenous lands for material gain. It was Napoleon III, after all, who installed Austrian archduke Maximilian I as Emperor of Mexico in 1864. Zamora speaks (in her program note) of the opera as centering ‘on themes of power and progress, gender and equality, and the restoration of natural order in an ever-changing world—a feminist eco-fable in operatic.”
“A key aspect of the production design features the creativity of children and youth, and their power to effect positive change in the world. A video screen at the back of stage displays artwork created by local K-12 students from across the Greater Los Angeles area as part of Sing for Hope’s UN Sustainable Development Goal Arts Curriculum. The pictures illuminate the opera’s themes, particularly through the curriculum’s goals of gender equality and climate action.”
“Camille Zamora and Sing for Hope Director of Education Sharyn Pirtle directed the production, with musical direction (and a vigorous 75-minute-long stint at the piano) by Lucy Tucker Yates. Zamora also penned an English-language narration that was performed by Emmy-nominated actress Monique Coleman, archly punctuating the action story-book-style.”
“Though gentle in spirit, the opera’s messages are strong.”
“Hats off to all for a job well done. I only hope the opera world takes notice.”
“Sing for Hope is The Wallis’ 2022/2023 season company-in-residence; sopranos Monica Yunus and Camille Zamora are the current artists-in-residence. Described as an ‘arts peace corps,’ Sing for Hope promotes the mission of art for all (and) has provided more pianos for under-resourced public schools than any other organization in the world. The group has also developed research-based creative performances, workshops, and curated cultural experiences; fostered education through dynamic arts workshops inspiring civic action; and presented programs to uplift youth and local communities. Globally, the organization offers creative advocacy, leadership, and program design as a means for social change.”
LA Times Weekend Pick
“A historic moment you won’t want to miss.”
“Says (Monica) Yunus, who plays Stella, ‘In my time at Juilliard, I don’t remember singing scores by women. It really is exciting to be able to bring something to life with such care and creativity surrounding it.’ She cites the rich musical language as the primary vehicle for the show’s themes of power and progress, gender equality, environmentalism, and restoring a broken natural order.”
“The scale of Yunus and Zamora’s ambitions is hardly surprising when one takes a glance at their collaborative beginnings. The two first met while studying at Juilliard, but the event that brought them together was in fact a tragedy; on the morning of 9/11, the Juilliard campus was less than five miles away from NYC’s original World Trade Center, sharing the block with a firehouse among the first responders. Yunus and Zamora organized a memorial performance of ‘songs of comfort’ (for the firefighters) at the Lincoln Center, bonding over their common pull to arts advocacy work and an ability to see ‘art delivery systems’ beyond traditional performance venues and art galleries.”
“‘We really wanted to explore the applications of music and community . . . what arts can do for society . . . and at the time, that wasn’t something that had a curriculum at a conservatory like Juilliard, so we really had to figure that out for ourselves. . . (It was definitely a journey of many, many emails.) . . . As aspiring musicians in an industry that can sometimes really hyperfocus on self and perfectionism, this was a way for us to get out of that.” – Monica Yunus
“In 2010, Yunus and Zamora launched Sing for Hope Pianos, a global arts initiative that commissions artistically painted pianos that are then placed in schools, hospitals, refugee camps, and other public spaces for all to enjoy. Since then, Sing for Hope has gone on to produce performances and cultural experiences to promote wellness in health facilities and treatment centers; create educational programs that serve youth in grades K-12 in partnership with major agencies (including The United Nations); and earn the status of official Cultural Partner of the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates.”
“Reflects Zamora, ‘There is no more raw, unmediated form of expression than using art in times of human intensity . . . In a hospital setting, in a transit hub, places of high stress, of [both] tremendous beauty and of tremendous panic and heartbreak. Sometimes the act of sharing the unamplified human voice in that kind of a context can feel quite miraculous.”
“Le dernier sorcier serves as the cornerstone production for Yunus, Zamora, and Sing for Hope’s residency at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, but its impact doesn’t stop there. One high priority value for the pair of artist activists is to engage community, and in particular to provide artistic opportunities to youth. Zamora points out, ‘My intention was not to go to Juilliard and study music and play these beautiful pianos, when the majority of kids in the city I live in… have never seen or touched a piano.’ (The Last Sorcerer at the Wallis features the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus as the opera’s cast of fairies, and set pieces by students from Savannah High School designed around themes of climate action and gender equality.)”
“‘Yes, we’re going to do an incredible opera production,’ Zamora shares. ‘But we’re going to do it in a way that actually ensures that a group of kids are transformed, and not just because they witness what we do, but because they come and witness what they are capable of.’ The decision to utilize local youth was an easy one — it offers both the heartbreaking symbolism of who will have to clean up the world shaped by our current climate crisis, and the proof that this story can be told by anyone.”
“The Last Sorcerer (is) this amazing piece. It’s sort of an eco-feminist fairy tale in operatic form. I don’t know that that’s the language that Pauline herself would have used to describe it circa 1867. But I do believe that was her intent. It’s a piece about the often ignored voices, in particular in this case, the young, the fairy folk who have not been given their due. It’s about elevating those voices that are too often left outside of conversations. And it’s about taking care of the earth and restoring the natural order.” – Camille Zamora
“This piece initially attracted us because we were on a kind of feminist mission to find a piece that had not gotten its due by a woman who really was reportedly one of the most incredible intellects of the 19th century. But as soon as we started delving in, these melodies just took over. So why did it debut in her living room, with her students and herself at the piano, as opposed to at the Paris Opera? These are social questions, and I think we know the answer. But I also think it’s waiting for our scholarship. It’s waiting for our study. Perhaps a more relevant question might be why did we wait until 2016 for the Metropolitan Opera to do its second opera by a woman, the first having been in 1908?” – Camille Zamora
“The fact of the matter is that our cultural delivery systems can be problematic. That’s the thing about systems: they’re hard to dismantle because they are no one’s intention. A lot of people aren’t invited in, or they don’t feel themselves to be invited in. I’m particularly compelled by models that allow for the highest level of international operatic talent and all of that stuff that we call excellence plus the most radical sense of welcome. A mutual welcome of mutual respect and of honoring the creativity that is hyper-local, even as we bring in these glorious artists from around the world… There’s a lot of amazing innovation happening right now in our opera world. The more that we can go in that direction, the better. The opportunities in this moment are tremendous, and we ignore them at our peril.” – Camille Zamora
“Ellos [los estudiantes] están haciendo un mundo para nuestra ópera”, dijo Camille. “Parte de la visión de Pauline hace 150 años era colaborar con sus alumnos, porque ella fue una persona con mucha empatía, con muchas ganas de dar sobre todo a los jóvenes que fueron sus alumnos, y para mí esa es parte del papel del artista, que pueda influir en la generación que viene.” – Camille Zamora
Beverly Hills Weekly
“Our desire to give back, and to give artists the opportunity to really bring their art into communities, is what really drives Sing for Hope to this day. The Last Sorcerer highlights this by allowing us to bring students into the actual production, foregrounding our ‘art for all’ vision,” says Monica Yunus.