In 1911 Gabriele d’Annunzio wrote a five-act mystery play on the subject of Saint Sebastian and his martyrdom as a vehicle for Ida Rubinstein, one of the more flamboyant members of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, who had just left the company to perform on her own. The play was provided with a large-scale score of incidental music by Claude Debussy requiring full orchestra, chorus, and three solo vocal parts (one soprano and two altos). While Debussy’s music is generally performed as an orchestra-only suite, subtitled “Fragments Symphoniques” (symphonic fragments), conductor Michael Tilson Thomas has had a great interest in the complete score. He performed it with the London Symphony Orchestra (and recorded that performance) in 1993 and then included it in his first season as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony in 1995. Next month he will return to this music for three subscription concerts at Davies Symphony Hall.
This will be an ambitious undertaking. It will (of course) involve the San Francisco Symphony Chorus (directed by Ragnar Bohlin); and the vocal soloists will be soprano Karina Gauvin and mezzos Sasha Cooke and Leah Wool. However, this production will also be semi-staged within the limitations of the Davies physical space; and Frederica von Stade will narrate passages from d’Annunzio’s text. The staging will be designed and directed by Anne Patterson and will include projected dance sequences (with projection design by Adam Larsen) choreographed by Myles Thatcher and danced by Damian Smith, both members of the San Francisco Ballet. There will also be lighting designed by Matthew Frey.
This dramatic interpretation of Debussy’s score will be preceded by a performance of Leoš Janáček’s Sinfonietta, actually a five-movement suite, each of whose movements has a descriptive title. This also requires the resources of a large orchestra. In addition the opening fanfare (probably the most familiar part of the score) should provide an appropriate introduction to Debussy’s use of fanfare in his own score.
There will be three performances of this concert in Davies Symphony Hall. These will all take place at 8 PM on Thursday, January 12, Friday, January 13, and Saturday, January 14, respectively. The Inside Music Talk will be given by James Keller one hour prior to each concert, free to all ticket holders. In addition a free podcast about Debussy’s composition will be available for download from the Podcast page shortly before the first performance. Ticket prices range from $35 to $145 and may be purchased through the event page for this concert on the Symphony Web site. Tickets may also be purchased at the Davies Box Office on Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street or by calling 415-864-6000.