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Theater Notebook: San Diego Rep’s ‘Hershey Felder: Puccini’ to star international opera cast

Cast members of "Hershey Felder: Puccini," being presented by San Diego Repertory Theatre on March 14.
Cast members of “Hershey Felder: Puccini,” being presented by San Diego Repertory Theatre on March 14, include (from left) tenor Charles Castronovo, Russian soprano Ekaterina Siurina, playwright Hershey Felder, Canadian soprano Gianna Corbisiero and American baritone Nathan Gunn, photographed in Florence, Italy.
(Courtesy photo)

This week’s San Diego theater news features news from The Breath Project, The Old Globe and the Storytellers of San Diego

On Sunday, San Diego Repertory Theatre will present the world premiere of “Hershey Felder: Puccini,” the Canadian-born playwright/pianist/actor’s latest composer-based play with music, streaming live from his home in Florence, Italy.

The production will feature an international cast of leading opera singers that include American baritone Nathan Gunn, American tenor Charles Castronovo, Russian soprano Ekaterina Siurina and Canadian soprano Gianna Corbisiero.

Felder wrote the script and will co-star in the production as its title subject, Italian opera composer Giacomo Puccini. The production will feature on-location film shoots in Lucca, the Tuscan city where Puccini was born and raised, and Felder playing the piano on which Puccini composed “Turandot.” The production will feature sung scenes from “La bohème,” “Tosca,” “Madama Butterfly” and “Turandot.”

Felder said in an email that he fell in love with Puccini’s music at age 17, when he heard the tenor aria “E lucevan le stelle” from “Tosca.” In the 35 years since, Felder said he’s been an opera devotee, and it was one of the reasons he moved to Florence, where the first opera ever written premiered. Felder said he was inspired to write about Puccini after visiting Lucca last summer. Officials with the city and Giacomo Puccini Foundation granted the film crew access to the buildings, instruments, personal items and theater where Puccini lived, composed and saw his first opera.

The play, Felder said, is about a young music student who gets to meet his musical hero, and from that relationship, the audience gets to see and hear some of Puccini’s most famous opera arias and duets, which were filmed on location in full costume and, in some cases, with a live orchestra.

The film will be streamed at 5 p.m. Sunday, March 14. Tickets are $55 per household. To register, visit sdrep.org.

Baritone Nathan Gunn and sooprano Gianna Corbisiero film a scene from "La boheme" for "Hershey Felder: Puccini" in Italy.
Baritone Nathan Gunn and sooprano Gianna Corbisiero prepare to film a scene from “La boheme” for “Hershey Felder: Puccini” in Italy.
(Courtesy photo)

Storytelling Festival moves online

The Storytellers of San Diego is going virtual for its 10th annual San Diego Storytelling Festival: Voices at the Water’s Edge. The festival will be presented as a series of free Zoom presentations March 18 through 24.

More than two dozen storytellers, both professionals and amateurs, will participate in this year’s fest.

“Celtic Stories” will open the festival at 6:30 p.m. March 18. On March 19, there will be three Zoom programs: A “What’s Your Story? Introduction to Personal Narrative Storytelling” workshop at 2 p.m.; the youth storytelling event “Kids Tell” at 4 p.m.; and food historian/storyteller Arlyn Hackett will present “Pandemic in the Kitchen: Cooking with Stories” at 6 p.m.

On March 20, three more events are planned: “Aunt Li-Anne” will host “Stories Make Stories” at 10 a.m.; followed by the Black Storytellers of San Diego: “Lifted Voices” at 1 p.m.; and a storytelling concert to conclude the day. The festival will close March 24 with an open mic story swap sessions. For details, visit storytellersofsandiego.org/.

Yolanda Marie Franklin, executive artistic director of Common Ground Theatre in San Diego.
(Courtesy photo)

Breath Project finalists chosen

The Breath Project, a new initiative co-sponsored by several American theaters that includes San Diego Rep, has announced the five finalists who will each receive $17,000 commissions to develop full-length plays.

They are Giovanny Camarena’s “Don’t Be Afraid”; Gamal Chasten in collaboration with Palo Alto Children’s Theatre’s “Say Hello, Stewart”; Tyharra Cozier’s “Outside of Space and Time”; El Colectivo de Dramaturgos de Puerto Rico’s “Inhala Exhala”; and Derek J. Snow’s “The Ballad of the Dying Body.”

The five winners were chosen from among 24 filmed theater works presented at The Breath Project festival last fall. All of the works were each 8 minutes, 46 seconds long, which was the time that George Floyd was pinned by the neck by a Minneapolis police officer before he died last May.

Herbert Siguenza, San Diego Rep’s artist in residence, was one of the festival’s curators. Danielle Ward, San Diego Rep’s associate artistic director and literary manager, said the Rep is now working with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Cornerstone Theatre in Los Angeles to provide support to Camarena to further develop his play “Don’t Be Afraid.” For details, visit thebreathproject2020.com.

Old Globe hosts directing fellowship

Yolanda Marie Franklin, executive artistic director of San Diego’s Common Ground Theatre, is one of four fellows participating this week in the Old Globe’s 2021 Classical Directing Fellowship.

Led by Old Globe artistic director Barry Edelstein, the weeklong fellowship focuses on Shakespeare’s text, how it is put together and how it works in the imagination and voices of American actors. The other three directors participating in the program this week are Meg DeBoard, Awoye Timpo and Edward Torres. Canceled last year due to the pandemic, the directing fellowship is being presented this year in a virtual format.

Pam Kragen writes about theater for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Email her at pam.kragen@sduniontribune.com.


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