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SF Opera Lab launches in intimate Taube Atrium Theater

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“Winteresse,” featuring baritone Matthias Goerne, pianist Markus Hinterhäuser and projections by William Kentridge, begins the SF Opera Lab series in the new Dianne and Tad Taube Atrium Theater. (Courtesy Patrick Berger/ArtComArt)

San Francisco Opera’s new venture, called SF Opera Lab, is admittedly small.

“One of the keys is the intimacy. Historically, San Francisco Opera produced grand-scale opera, and we have a large house and the work there must by necessity be on a grand scale in order to fill that room. But when we immediately transpose things over to a much more intimate theater, we essentially become an arts branch.” says the program’s director Elkhanah Pulitzer, referring to the new Dianne and Tad Taube Atrium Theater.

The 299-seat theater, which opened Feb. 28 with a Schwabacher Debut Recital, is on the fourth floor of the Veterans Building (the original location of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), next door to the cavernous 3,146-seat Opera House.

Its size and location coordinate well with SF Opera Lab’s mission to present innovative, experimental works and attract newer audiences.

Programming kicks off Friday with “Winterreise” (“Winter Journey”), Schubert’s extraordinary 24-song tale of love and sorrow for voice and piano. The West Coast premiere is a production featuring the great German baritone Matthias Goerne, pianist Markus Hinterhäuser and 24 animated short films by South African artist William Kentridge.

Calling “Winterreise” a “quintessential” song cycle, Pulitzer says the piece represents an ideal way to inaugurate the new stage and begin the conversation. She adds, “It was a way of getting our sea legs.”

SF Opera Lab’s theatrical and vocal mix continues in April with “Svadba-Wedding,” Serbian-Canadian composer Ana Sokolović’s a cappella opera for six female voices; ChamberWORKS, a collaboration between members of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and 2016 Adler Fellows; and the Oscar-nominated French film “The Triplets of Belleville Cine-Concert.” In May, the season concludes with “Voigt Lessons,” soprano Deborah Voigt’s one-woman musical account of her life and career. (Tickets range from $25 to $75.)

The setting encourages audiences to enjoy a casual, relaxed outing; the theater has no dress code and the seats have cup holders for beverages brought from home or purchased at the bar.

However, standards for theater’s acoustics are anything but lax. It is fitted with Meyer Sound’s state-of-the-art Constellation acoustic system, found at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall, among other venues.

“The same acoustics that one would want for spoken-word presentation is quite different from what one would want for an operatic music performance,” says Meyer Sound’s Applications Director Steve Ellison. “The success of a room is dependent upon interplay between the physical architecture and the electronic architecture; those elements work together to create a room that has adjustable acoustics. With our system in the room, just with the press of a button, one can adjust the acoustics.”

Presented by SF Opera Lab
Where: Taube Atrium Theater, Veterans Building, 401 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. March 11-12, 3 p.m. March 13
Tickets: $125
Contact: (415) 864-3330, www.sfoperalab.com

More Opera Lab offerings
Svadba–Wedding: April 2-10
ChamberWORKS: April 7, April 20
Triplets of Belleville: April 14–23
Voigt Lessons: May 6, May 8