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SFCM Grad Makes History at San Francisco Opera

SFCM alumnus Roberto Kalb conducted the first Spanish-language work in San Francisco Opera’s history during a historic season.

July 5, 2023 by Mark Taylor

Critics are saying the San Francisco Opera “brought its very best” for its centennial season, and that included some SFCM talent at the helm.

Roberto Kalb (‘09) conducted El Último Sueño de Frida y Diego (The Last Dream of Frida and Diego), a work exploring Frida Kahlo’s love affair with Diego Rivera, set against the backdrop of Day of the Dead celebrations. The opera, by Gabriela Lena Frank and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz debuted on the SF Opera stage June 13th, 2023. 

roberto kalb gabriela lena frank

SFCM grad Roberto Kalb and Gabriela Lena Frank.

In addition to being a brand-new production, El Último Sueño was the first Spanish language work to take the stage. Kalb called the experience “humbling and incredibly exciting, and a great honor,” adding “this is a significant milestone for the opera community in general.” Gabriela Lena Frank is also no stranger to SFCM, her first composition program was at 16 in SFCM's Pre-College division and she was also visiting faculty in 2019.  

It was an especially layered moment for Kalb—who studied composition at SFCM—as it was here in San Francisco where he saw his first opera. “Returning to San Francisco Opera, not as a spectator but as a conductor, truly feels like a full circle. It is a reflection of my growth and the journey I have taken. It brings back memories of when I was a student. It's a true thrill to make music here with such world-class colleagues,” he said. Kalb is also represented by Askonas Holt, the artist management company acquired by SFCM in 2022.  

roberto kalb conducting SF opera

Roberto Kalb conducting at the SF Opera.

Kalb credits his teachers at SFCM, including Scott Foglesong, for playing a pivotal role in preparing him for this undertaking. “My wonderful teachers and mentors all contributed to my understanding and passion for music in different, but converging ways,” Kalb said. 

He also studied at SFCM when it moved to its current location in the center of the arts of the city. “I was a stone’s throw away from the symphony and opera, so I was not only getting great training, but also had immediate access to those world-class institutions.” 

Roberto Kalb.

Roberto Kalb.

As for the future, Kalb will return to his position as Music Director at Detroit Opera. He hopes the success of El Último Sueño de Frida y Diego will lead to more opera houses trying out new productions, something evidenced by critics who called the production one of two this season that made “complementary arguments for opera as a thriving and revivified art form.” 

As for music students, Kalb stresses the advice of not just working hard and building connections crucial to your career, but also simply enjoying your time at SFCM. “Remember to live and enjoy your student life as well. These years are incredibly formative, and your experiences during this time will shape the way you look at music and art.”

Learn more about studying Composition, or Conducting at SFCM.