Welcome to Meg Bragle!

Our performances of Handel’s La Resurrezione will feature the long-awaited ABS debut of Meg Bragle, an American mezzo-soprano who has worked with some of the most highly regarded Baroque ensembles in the world, including the English Baroque Soloists with Sir John Eliot Gardner, Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. ABS caught up with Meg to hear some of her thoughts about her career, her desire to work with Jeffrey Thomas, and her role in La Resurrezione.

Meg Bragle

You’ve found a lot of success performing Baroque music. How did you come to realize you had a certain affinity for this repertoire? Was it a specific performance or opportunity?

I feel incredibly lucky to have found my way to Baroque music. It’s hard to say that there was one defining moment—rather that many threads of my musical life drew me to the repertoire and approach to music-making. Certainly one of the most important and compelling elements for me is the collaborative spirit that pervades the genre. I love that feeling you get when everyone is on the same wave length and music happens.   

What excites you about working with Jeffrey Thomas and ABS for the first time?

Jeffrey is one of the foremost conductors in the American Baroque scene, and I’ve been looking forward to working with him for a long time. I love that he is both a singer and conductor, and I think that this gives him a unique approach to music-making.

Does your preparation change when you are about to work with an ensemble for the first time rather than a group with which you’re already familiar?

I don’t think so. It’s always exciting to work with a new group, and the process of getting to know an ensemble when working together for the first time is always something I look forward to. But really my preparation is focused on the music and text. Once you arrive and start working with the other musicians, that’s when the piece takes on a different life of its own—each group has its own musical identity and approach.  The trick is finding your way with them toward the common goal of an expressive and compelling performance.

Given your considerable opera experience, how do you incorporate your acting abilities, if at all, for oratorio performances such as La Resurrezione? In other words, do you still “act” your role while stationary?

I think oratorio requires more of a singer in some ways because you aren’t dependent on costumes, sets, or choreography to bolster the action. The text is paramount, and it is so important to remember that Handel’s original audiences expected to be moved when attending the first performances, since they were deprived of opera at the time (a papal ban prohibited operatic performances in Rome when La Resurrezione was premiered). I think my primary job is to communicate with the audience: to take the words and music Handel wrote and draw people into the drama.

What would you like the audience to know about your role as Mary Cleophas? Is there something interesting that they should listen for?

Mary Cleophas is a mysterious figure in the Bible, and not much is known of her except that she was one of the women present at the Crucifixion of Jesus. Despite that, Handel has written some wonderful and expressive music for this rather unknown woman. La Resurezzione is full of musical delights and the writing is so expressive. I hope the audience enjoys every minute!

HANDEL: La Resurrezione

Nola Richardson, soprano (Mary Magdalene)
Mary Wilson, soprano (Angel)
Meg Bragle, mezzo-soprano (Mary Cleophas)
Kyle Stegall, tenor (John the Evangelist)
Jesse Blumberg, baritone (Lucifer)
American Bach Soloists
Jeffrey Thomas, conductor

Friday May 5 2017 8:00 pm
St. Stephen’s Church, 3 Bayview Avenue, BELVEDERE

Saturday May 6 2017 8:00 pm
First Presbyterian Church, 2407 Dana Street, BERKELEY

Sunday May 7 2017 4:00 pm
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, 1111 O’Farrell Street, SAN FRANCISCO

Monday May 8 2017 7:00 pm
​Davis Community Church, 412 C Street, DAVIS

Meet the Vocal Soloists for Handel’s “La Resurrezione”

Composed and first performed during his youthful sojourn in Rome, Handel’s 1708 work is a marvel of creative power and imagination. La Resurrezione, a truly operatic oratorio, scandalized the Vatican (opera was prohibited in Rome by Papal edict at the time) yet assured Handel’s place as the new master of Italian operatic style. Heaven and Hell—embodied in an Angel and Lucifer—battle for supremacy on earth through this dramatic telling of the emotions and convictions of Mary Magdalene, Mary Cleophas, and John the Evangelist. The score demands bravura performances from singers and instrumentalists alike. ABS Artistic and Music Director Jeffrey Thomas conducts an outstanding cast of leading Handelians in this early example of the composer’s brilliance.

Mary WilsonMary Wilson (soprano) is acknowledged as one of today’s most exciting artists, with Opera News heralding her first solo recording, Mary Wilson Sings Handel, as one of their “Best of the Year.” Cultivating a wide-ranging career singing chamber music, oratorio, and operatic repertoire, her “bright soprano seems to know no terrors, wrapping itself seductively around every phrase” (Dallas Morning News). Receiving consistent critical acclaim from coast to coast, “she proves why many in the opera world are heralding her as an emerging star. She is simply amazing, with a voice that induces goose bumps and a stage presence that is mesmerizing. She literally stole the spotlight …” (Arizona Daily Star). An exciting interpreter of Baroque repertoire, “with a crystal clear and agile soprano voice perfectly suited to Handel’s music” (Early Music America), she has appeared with American Bach Soloists, Philharmonia Baroque, Musica Angelica, Boston Baroque, Portland Baroque Orchestra, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Casals Festival, and the Carmel Bach Festival. In high demand on the concert stage, she has recently appeared with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Singapore Symphony, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, National Symphony of Costa Rica, at Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl, to list but a few. She has frequently worked with conductors Jeffrey Thomas, Martin Haselböck, Bernard Labadie, Nicholas McGegan, Martin Pearlman, and Leonard Slatkin. With the IRIS Chamber Orchestra, she sang the World Premiere of the song cycle Songs Old and New written especially for her by Ned Rorem. She was named an Emerging Artist by Symphony Magazine in the publication’s first ever presentation of promising classical soloists on the rise. On the opera stage, she is especially noted for her portrayals of Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos, Susannah in Le Nozze di Figaro, and Gilda in Rigoletto. She has created roles in world premiere performances of Dove’s Flight, Glass’ Galileo Galilei, and Petitgirard’s Joseph Merrick dit L’Elephant Man. A national finalist of the 1999 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, she has appeared with Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Minnesota Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, Opera Memphis, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and many others. Ms Wilson holds vocal performance degrees from St. Olaf College and Washington University in St. Louis. She is an Assistant Professor of Voice at the University of Memphis where she resides with her husband, son, and two dogs.

Nola RichardsonNola Richardson (soprano), a participant in the ABS Academy in 2012 and 2013, has received attention for the “precision and clarity” of her voice and the sensitivity of her interpretations, particularly in the Baroque repertoire. Her operatic roles include Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro and Madame Silberklang in Der Schauspieldirektor with Bel Cantanti Opera, Pamina in Die Zauberflöte with Maryland Concert Opera, Gianetta in L’elisir D’amore with Emerald City Opera, Calisto in La Calisto with Peabody Opera Theater, the Child in Lux et Tenebrae with The Figaro Project (a world premiere), and the Dew Fairy and Gretel (cover) in Hansel and Gretel with Chesapeake Chamber Opera and Maryland Concert Opera. In addition to her operatic work, Ms. Richardson frequently appears in concerts throughout the United States. She presents recitals of Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque music which have included performances for the opening of the exhibit Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics and Devotion in Medieval Europe at the Walters Art Gallery and a featured performance in the Boston Early Music Fringe Festival. She has performed Bach›s Mass in B Minor with the American Bach Soloists Academy and the Bach Concert Series, Schubert›s Mass in G Major and Handel›s Messiah with Hood College and the US Naval Academy, Bach›s Jauchzett Gott in allen Landen with the Bach Sinfonia, and Haydn’s Seven Last Words of Christ at the Cathedral of the Incarnation. Ms. Richardson also has appeared as a soloist with Tempesta di Mare and recently performed in concert as part of the Early Music Series at the Walters with trumpeter Andrew Balio of the BSO featuring virtuosic Baroque repertoire for trumpet and soprano. Ms. Richardson also performs as a member of the medieval ensemble, Eya, and her voice can be heard on the recording Concerto delle Donne with Heaven’s Noyse present the Music of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani. She is the official cantor of the Cathedral of the Incarnation and the Episcopalian Diocese of Maryland and she frequently performs as a professional chorister and soloist with the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, Chantry, and Cathedra, at the Washington National Cathedral. Ms. Richardson will be releasing her first album of lute songs with John Armato in June. This summer she will appear as a young artist and cover the title role in the Boston Early Music Festival’s production of Handel’s Almira and return for a second season with the American Bach Soloists. She has taught voice for over six years, combining pedagogy studies with performance experience, and considers teaching to be a valuable part of her career as a musician. She has presented workshops to singers from all over Maryland on choral diction and vocal technique. She holds two Master of Music degrees in Vocal Performance/Pedagogy and Early Music from the Peabody Conservatory, and has studied under sopranos Phyllis Bryn-Julson and Ah Hong. She was the first soprano to ever be accepted into both the Yale Voxtet and DMA programs.

Meg BragleMeg Bragle (mezzo-soprano), widely praised for her musical intelligence and “expressive virtuosity” (San Francisco Chronicle), is quickly earning an international reputation as one of today’s most gifted and versatile artists. As a featured soloist with Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the English Baroque Soloists, she has made four recordings with the group, including Bach’s Easter and Ascension Oratorios—the vehicle for her BBC Proms debut—and the Fall 2015 release of Bach’s Mass in B Minor. Ms. Bragle has sung in North America and Europe with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Les Violons du Roy, Apollo’s Fire, and the Dunedin Consort. Highlights of her 2016-17 season include appearances with Milwaukee Symphony (Mozart’s Requiem), Cincinnati Symphony (Bach’s Mass in B Minor), St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater), Dunedin Consort (Handel’s Messiah), Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (Bach Lutheran Masses), and Early Music Vancouver (Bach’s Magnificat). Bragle also performs this season at the Winter Park, Carmel Bach, and London Baroque Festivals, with Voices of Music, and Catacoustic Consort. Other recent highlights include Bruno Moretti’s Vespro with New York City Ballet, tours of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and “Christmas Oratorio” with the Netherlands Bach Society, and Bach’s Lutheran Masses with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Her recent opera roles include Idamante in Mozart’s Idomeneo, Dido and the Sorceress in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, Dardano in Handel’s Amadigi, Amastre in Handel’s Serse, Speranza in Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, Ippolita in Cavalli’s Elena, and Elpina in Vivaldi’s La Fida Ninfa. Ms. Bragle is an accomplished recording artist.  In addition to those with the English Baroque Soloists, she has made several recordings with Apollo’s Fire: Mozart’s Requiem (Koch), Handel’s Dixit Dominus and Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne (Avie), and Monteverdi’s Vespro della Beata Vergine (Avie), and L’Orfeo (Eclectra). Other recordings include Cozzolani’s Vespro della Beata Vergine and Messa Paschale with Magnificat (Musica Omnia), “Music of Medieval Love” with New York’s Ensemble for Early Music (Ex Cathedra), Toby Twining’s Chrysalid Requiem (Cantaloupe), Anthony Newman’s Requiem (Khaeon World Music), and Copland’s In the Beginning with the late John Scott and the Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys (New York City) and the Oratorio Singers of Charlotte on their own labels.

Kyle StegallKyle Stegall (tenor), also an alumnus of the ABS Academy (2013), has been praised for his “lovely tone and ardent expression” (New York Times), as well as his “lively and empathetic delivery” (San Francisco Classical Voice). His career has taken him around the world as a specialist in music of the Baroque.  An artist who communicates equally well on concert, opera, and recital stages, his performances are characterized by an unfailing attention to style and detail. Mr. Stegall’s successful solo debuts in Japan, Australia, Vienna, Italy, Singapore, and Canada as well as on major stages across America have been in collaboration with many of the world’s most celebrated conductors including Jeffrey Thomas, William Christie, Joseph Flummerfelt, and Manfred Honeck among others.  Heard frequently as Evangelist and tenor soloist in the passions and cantatas of J.S. Bach, Mr. Stegall made his Lincoln Center debut as the Evangelist in the St. John Passion under the direction of Masaaki Suzuki. Other concert work also figures prominently in Mr. Stegall’s seasons including the oratorios of Handel and Haydn, the great masses of Mozart and Beethoven, and choral-orchestral works from the bel canto and 20th-century canon.  Mr. Stegall’s “ability to absorb viewers into the action, something which is rarely achieved in opera” (San Francisco Classical Voice), has made him a popular choice for leading lyric tenor roles in stage repertoire spanning the entire Western Music tradition. Upcoming performances include the Evangelist in Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” with The Bach Society of St. Louis, recital appearances in Melbourne, Sonoma, and the role of Endimione in West Edge Opera’s summer festival production of Martin y Soler’s L’abore di Diana.  Mr. Stegall holds degrees from the universities of Missouri, Michigan, and Yale, and maintains a schedule of private teaching and guest masterclasses throughout each season.

Jesse BlumbergJesse Blumberg (baritone) is equally at home on opera, concert, and recital stages, performing repertoire from the Renaissance and Baroque to the 21st century. His performances have included the world premiere of The Grapes of Wrath at Minnesota Opera, Niobe, Regina di Tebe with Boston Early Music Festival, Bernstein’s MASS at London’s Royal Festival Hall, and appearances with Atlanta Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Utah Opera, and Boston Lyric Opera. Recital highlights include appearances with the Marilyn Horne Foundation and New York Festival of Song, and performances of Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise with pianist Martin Katz. He has performed major works with American Bach Soloists, Los Angeles Master Chorale, Boston Baroque, Oratorio Society of New York, Apollo’s Fire, Charlotte Symphony, TENET/Green Mountain Project, and on Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series. Mr. Blumberg has given the world premieres of Ricky Ian Gordon’s Green Sneakers, Lisa Bielawa’s The Lay of the Love and Death, Conrad Cummings’ Positions 1956, and Tom Cipullo’s Excelsior. He also works closely with several other renowned composers as a member of the Mirror Visions Ensemble. He has been featured on a dozen commercial recordings, including the 2014 Grammy-winning Charpentier Chamber Operas with Boston Early Music Festival. He has been recognized in several competitions, and was awarded Third Prize at the 2008 International Robert Schumann Competition in Zwickau, becoming its first American prizewinner in over thirty years.  He received a Master of Music degree from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and received undergraduate degrees in History and Music from the University of Michigan. He is also the founder and artistic director of Five Boroughs Music Festival, which brings chamber music of many genres to every corner of New York City.

Friday, May 5, 2017, 8:00 pm – St. Stephen’s Church, Belvedere
Saturday, May 6, 2017, 8:00 pm – First Presbyterian Church, Berkeley
Sunday, May 7, 2017, 4:00 pm – St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, San Francisco
Monday, May 8, 2017, 7:00 pm – Davis Community Church, Davis

Gala Auction Winners of “Maestro Chef” Enjoy Gourmet Feasts

We all know what Jeffrey Thomas can do in a concert hall, but did you know that he’s equally skilled in the kitchen? One of the Live Auction items at last September’s “Sparkle” Gala was “Maestro Chef: Dinner for Four.” The item was so popular that the offer was extended to two top bidders. Customized menus were developed by our ABS Artistic Director especially for the guests, and the dinners were hosted by Elizabeth Wilson & Dennis Bonney in their exquisite home on the border of San Francisco’s Presidio. Both evenings featured delicious food, paired wines, and endlessly fascinating conversations.​

But if Jeffrey Thomas is the “Maestro” chef, ABS’s Artistic Administrator and principal contrabass player Steven Lehning is truly the “Master” chef. Just as his Herculean musical efforts in the ABS office are the backbone to every ABS musical program, so were his formidable culinary skills the core of the meal preparations.

Dennis Bonney - Elizabeth Wilson - Liz McCrum - Kaneez Munjee - Chris McCrum - Hugh Davies (not pictured: Steven Lehning, photographer)

Dennis Bonney – Elizabeth Wilson – Liz McCrum – Kaneez Munjee – Chris McCrum – Hugh Davies (not pictured: Steven Lehning, photographer)

For the first evening—which took place on the weekend of the Bay Area’s tremendous January downpours—the auction winners Hugh Davies & Kaneez Munjee of San Rafael invited ABS friends Chris McCrum & Liz Velarde to join them for a menu that began with champagne, delicate asparagus wrapped in prosciutto and dusted with lemon zest, and baby tomatoes filled with a shrimp cream with just a dash of horseradish. A chestnut soup with Madeira and truffle oil followed, paired with Amontillado sherry. The salad course was a doubleheader: shaved fennel, grapefruit, and mint, splashed with a light citrus dressing was served alongside a frisée salad with slivered kumquats tossed with vinaigrette. The wine pairing was a Rosé from Château de L’Aumerade in Côtes de Provence. For the main course, Boeuf Bourguignon took the center stage, served with baby potatoes roasted with rosemary & parmesan, and haricots verts with toasted almonds. The wine, a 2012 Reserve Cabernet, was from Stonetree Cellars, the private vineyards of Paul & Sandy Ogden. Finally, a spectacular Pavlova, prepared by our hostess, Elizabeth Wilson, capped off the unforgettable evening.

Irene & Bob Belknap - Ben & Meagan Becker - Steven Lehning - Elizabeth Wilson (not pictured: Jeffrey Thomas, photographer)

Irene & Bob Belknap – Ben & Meagan Becker – Steven Lehning – Elizabeth Wilson (not pictured: Jeffrey Thomas, photographer)

For the second offering of the Gala Auction item—on the weekend just before ABS’s “Bach Cantatas” performances—the winners were Ben & Meagan Becker of Mill Valley, who invited Robert & Irene Belknap as their guests. Following champagne and hors d’oeuvres, an appetizer of baked mushrooms filled with a blend of chèvre, olives, and herbs was followed by a “duet” of chilled soups: the first was a creamy avocado blend with hints of lemon and garlic, and the second was a fennel-based vichyssoise, both served with a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand’s Marlborough region. The main course was a beautifully presented salmon en croûte, served with multi-colored baby carrots and spring green beans sautéed with caramelized shallots, and baby potatoes roasted with garlic and rosemary. Oak Knoll’s Napa Valley Chardonnay completed the course. And, luckily for all at the table, Elizabeth again prepared her now legendary Pavlova for dessert.​

ABS thanks Hugh, Kaneez, Ben, and Meagan for their support at our Gala. And we are very grateful to Elizabeth and Dennis for opening up their beautiful home for two evenings of ABS fun. Additional “Maestro Chef” dinners might be offered at our next—and fifteenth!—Annual Gala Auction, Concert, & Dinner on September 23, 2017, at the James Leary Flood Mansion in San Francisco, benefiting the American Bach Soloists Academy. For more information, visit the Sparkle Gala web site at americanbach.org/gala.

Sparkle 2017