Conductor and SFCM alumnus Roberto Kalb will take to the podium to conduct the first Spanish language work in San Francisco Opera’s history.
By Mark Taylor
A season of firsts is coming to the San Francisco Opera stage. Both in productions and for the musicians on stage. The first time Roberto Kalb saw a live opera was at the SF Opera, while he was a student at SFCM, “It is one of my favorite memories. My dear friend Derek David insisted that we go to the opera. It was Fidelio... We stood in the standing room area, (and) I fell in love, instantly, with opera,” Kalb continued, “After that, I basically went to every single SFO production during my student years in San Francisco.”
Now years later, Kalb will be returning to that same stage he first saw a student, but this time as a performer. In doing so, the composer will make history by conducting the first Spanish language work ever to be performed on the SF Opera stage. Kalb calls it a humbling experience, “I feel so fortunate to do what I love, and to be able to come back to SF Opera to conduct feels like a great accomplishment, and gives me huge motivation to keep honing my craft,” Kalb continued, “I hope this is the bridge to more operas in Spanish being done at SFO, and opera companies world-wide.”
Kalb will conduct Gabriela Lena Frank and playwright Nilo Cruz’s “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. “Told through a surreal and magical lense, the opera bridges the real, and magical realism, with both Frida, Diego, Catrina, and a set of other colorful characters,” said Kalb. The performance is part of SF Opera’s centennial season which promises to honor the first 100 years while envisioning a bold future.
It is somewhat of a homecoming for Kalb, who graduated from SFCM in 2009. “I can trace straight lines from my experiences as a music student that shaped my way and eventually led me back to San Francisco, so it really does feel like full-circle for me,” Kalb said. The composer remembers his time as a student fondly where he studied with a number of professors including Scott Foglesong, “I always say that Scott Foglesong made me capable of doing what I do today. I believe I took every single one of his Musicianship and Theory classes, as well as studied piano privately with him,” he added.
When asked about his former student, Foglesong had only positive things to say, "Apropos his success since SFCM, I’m absolutely delighted for him, but at the same time I’m not surprised. I was certain he was destined for a fine career!" Foglesong said.
Kalb now thinks of all his former instructors as mentors and friends, “Elinor Armer was a wonderful, patient, and supportive composition teacher during my entire time at SFCM. Conrad Susa changed my life quite a few times during our counterpoint classes. Dr. Nikolaus Hohmann taught me not only about history, but about philosophy, and was a great example of grace, and kindness.”
It’s been about a decade since Kalb has walked San Francisco streets, and while he will be dedicated to helping bring “El Último Sueño de Frida y Diego” to life on stage, off stage he is looking forward to revisiting SFCM, where his music career was founded, “I feel like this gets overlooked, but there is a reason everyone wishes they could go back to their college years. Your experiences in life shape the way you look at music and art, both as an audience member and as an interpreter,” he added.
Roberto Kalb and “El Último Sueño de Frida y Diego” is scheduled to debut on the SF Opera stage June 13-30th, 2023.