March 23, 2009

Collection Rotation: San Francisco Opera

Our regular feature, “Collection Rotation.” Once a month I invite a local guest to organize lists, groupings, or ‘exhibitions’ from our permanent collection. To coincide with the opening of William Kentridge’s direction of the Monteverdi opera The Return of Ulysses, I asked San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley to pair bits of opera with a selection of images. Thanks to Jon Finck and Kip Cranna and everyone at the Opera who collaborated on this fabulous rotation. Note: Listen loud.

James Nachtwey

James Nachtwey, Untitled, n.d. Photograph | chromogenic print. © James Nachtwey and Richard Wagner: Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), “The Ride of the Valkyries.” Performed by the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, conducted by Donald Runnicles

There is an electrifying buzz of excitement in the air as Wotan’s warrior-maidens swoop across the sky on their way to collect fallen heroes from the battlefield, soaring above as in the gravity-defying somersaults of these performers.

Liu Wei

Liu Wei, Swimmers, 1997. Painting | oil on canvas. Gift of Vicki and Kent Logan © Liu Wei and Vincenzo Bellini: Norma Duet, “Mira, o Norma” Performed by Catherine Naglestad (Norma) and Irina Mishura (Adalgisa), with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra conducted by Oleg Caetani

Moving in perfect, serene synchronization like these elegant swimmers, Norma and her confidante Adalgisa sing in perfect harmony as they swear to be true and faithful friends, never letting a man come between them.


Alfred Stieglitz, Dorothy Norman, 1932. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Georgia O’Keeffe and Giacomo Puccini: Suor Angelica (Sister Angelica), “Senza Mama.” Performed by Leona Mitchell, with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra conducted by Nello Santi

Forced to enter a convent after bearing a son out of wedlock, Sister Angelica mourns at the news that her little boy has died: “You died without your mother, not knowing how much I loved you!”


Brian Alfred, Untitled (Computer), 2000. Mixed media on paper. © Brian Alfred and Charles Gounod: Faust, “A moi les plaisirs!” Performed by Richard Leech (Faust) and Samuel Ramey (Mephistopheles), with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, conducted by Patrick Summers

Faust, the aged, lonely scholar bent over his desk, disillusioned and weary of his fruitless studies in search of knowledge and wisdom, casts aside his work and excitedly cries out for a new life: “Give me youth, desire, ecstasy, pleasure!” The demon Mephistopheles eggs him on.


Fletcher Benton, Synchronetic C-3300, 1966. Aluminum, acrylic, and Plexiglas with electrical apparatus. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William C. Janss, © Fletcher Benton and Giuseppe Verdi: Il Trovatore (The Troubadour), “The Anvil Chorus.” Performed by the San Francisco Opera Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by Marco Armiliato

The ringing and clanging of bright shining metal resounds as the gypsies hammer away at their anvils, fashioning polished steel to the sounds of their singing.


Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park #54, 1972. Oil on canvas. Gift of Friends of Gerald Nordland © Estate of Richard Diebenkorn and Giacomo Puccini, Madama Butterfly, “The Humming Chorus.” Performed by the San Francisco Opera Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by Donald Runnicles

Subtly shifting colors streak across the sky, turning it purplish and then grey as night falls, and the humming of unseen voices accompanies Miss Butterfly’s vigil as she awaits the dawn and the arrival of her beloved.

Henri Matisse, _Woman with a Hat_, 1905

Henri Matisse, Femme au chapeau (Woman with a Hat), 1905. Oil on canvas. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Bequest of Elise S. Haas © Succession H. Matisse, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and Giacomo Puccini: La Bohème, “Quando me’n vo'”, Performed by Norah Amsellem, with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, conducted by Nicola Luisotti

Like Matisse’s high-fashion lady in her trendy hat, the high-spirited flirt Musetta prances on the arm of her rich sugar daddy, telling how she loves the admiring glances of men who seem to be undressing her with their eyes.

Leave a comment

Please tell us what you think. We really love conversation, and we’re happy to entertain dissenting opinions. Just no name-calling, personal attacks, slurs, threats, spam, and the like, please. Those ones we reserve the right to remove.

Sign Up

Join our newsletter for infrequent updates on new posts and Open Space events.
  • Required, will not be published

Dear Visitor,
We regret to inform you that Open Space is no longer active. It was retired at the end of 2021. We sincerely appreciate your support and engagement over the years.

For your reference, we encourage you to read past entries or search the site.

To stay informed about future ventures or updates, please follow us at

Thank you for being a part of our journey!