SFOpera - This Weekend’s Grammy Nominees? You’ve Seen Them Right Here

This Weekend’s Grammy Nominees? You’ve Seen Them Right Here

It’s nearly here. After being delayed by the coronavirus for nearly two months, the 63rd annual Grammy Awards are set to air on March 14, marking a night of celebration for the music industry.

This year’s nominees include the usual suspects: Major pop artists like Beyoncé, Dua Lipa, and Taylor Swift lead the pack in nominations and will be duking it out in major categories like Record of the Year and Song of the Year. But 2021 at the Grammys is equally notable for a crop of unparalleled classical music talent—some of whom of have appeared right here on the San Francisco Opera stage. Read on to see if you recognize these select nominees from their time here in the Bay Area.

Baritone Kenneth Overton

Baritone Kenneth Overton—known for appearances in 2009’s Porgy and Bess, 2010’s The Girl of the Golden West, and 2019’s Billy Budd—sang the title role in Richard Danielpour’s world premiere oratorio The Passion of Yeshua, a retelling of Christ’s final moments on earth. 

The recording of that oratorio is now up for three Grammy awards, including Best Choral Performance, Best Contemporary Classical Composition, and Best Engineered Classical Album

Overton, who will moderate an interview with stage legend Grace Bumbry later this month as part of our online Ring Festival, told San Francisco Opera he learned about the Grammy nods in a text from a friend last fall.

“I dropped my phone. I started crying. I called my parents, I called my grandmother,” he recalled. Im just blown away and humbled by it all, honestly.” 

Mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges

Mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges was a featured soloist alongside Kenneth Overton on the three-time Grammy nominated album The Passion of Yeshua.

But the mezzo-soprano is perhaps better known locally for making history on our stage: She delivered her first-ever portrayal of Carmen right here in 2019, and she starred as the doomed Josefa Segovia in a 2017 world premiere from composer John Adams, Girls of the Golden West.

What’s next for the glamorous mezzo-soprano with a voice like velvet? She appears in the premiere of the documentary short series “In Song,” airing on March 11.

Soprano Angel Blue
Soprano Angel Blue

In 2009,  American soprano Angel Blue made her San Francisco Opera debut as Clara in 2009’s Porgy and Bess.

Recently she went onto tackle the title role of Bess for the Metropolitan Opera, her performance proved to be a smash hit. The New York Times gushed that she was “radiant, capturing both the pride and fragility of the character.” That production of Porgy and Bess went on to have an extended run on the Metropolitan Opera stage—and it produced a three-disk recording featuring the blockbuster performances of Blue and her co-stars. That recording received several Grammy nods, including Best Opera Recording, Best Engineered Classical Album, and Classical Producer of the Year.

Eric Owens

The Porgy to Angel Blue’s Bess is a familiar face on our stage: bass-baritone Eric Owens. He had performed the role in San Francisco almost a decade before, in 2009’s production of Porgy and Bess.

“One of the finest performances of their careers” is how The New York Times described Owens and Blue in their roles as part of this year’s Grammy-nominated production. But Owens already has a Grammy win to his name for a recording of a role he originated here in San Francisco. In 2005, he starred in the world premiere of Doctor Atomic, held on the War Memorial Opera House stage. Six years later, an album version he participated in won Best Opera Recording at the Grammys.

Mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves

Another featured performer on this year’s Grammy-nominated Porgy and Bess album is veteran mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves. She sings the part of Maria, the matriarch who runs the cook shop in South Carolina’s fictional Catfish Row. 

Graves delivered her iconic portrayal of Carmen twice on our stage. The first time was in 1991—and she performed with a cast on her foot. Following her return performance in 1998, a headline in the San Francisco Chronicle blared: “Graves Lights Fire Under ‘Carmen.’” Its critic praised her “smoldering dramatic presence.”

The last time she was seen on this stage was in 2007, in Igor Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress. The San Francisco Chronicle again hailed her performance as “full of theatrical grandeur.”

Bass-baritone Alfred Walker

Bass-baritone Alfred Walker was likewise part of the all-star Porgy and Bess cast, delivering pathos a plenty in the role of Crown, a dockworker and abusive lover to the opera's heroine, Bess. The New York Times proclaimed his to be a “menacing, formidable performance,” in a cast that was “outstanding.”

Walker was seen on the San Francisco Opera stage as recently as 2019, when he starred in Hansel and Gretel. The San Francisco Chronicle praised his “unbridled power and presence” alongside co-star Michaela Martens. Before that, he was making a "formidable company debut" as Orest in 2017's Elektra, with "singing as ominous and sepulchral as his presence." 

Joyce DiDonato

Grammy darling Joyce DiDonato is back for another chance at gilded gramophone glory, this time for her work on a recording of Agrippina, released under the Warner Classics label. It’s the latest in a string of Grammy wins and nods for the acclaimed mezzo-soprano, seen here in 2003 and 2004’s The Barber of Seville, in 2007’s Der Rosenkavalier, and in 2012’s The Capulets and the Montagues.

DiDonato’s history with Grammy gold goes all the way back to 2011, when she scooped up a dual win for Best Classical Vocal Solo and Best Opera Recording. More nominations followed, and then came two wins, both in the Best Classical Solo Vocal Album category: one in 2015 and one in 2019. 

With this Grammy darling add another gold statuette to her collection? Agrippina is up for Best Opera Recording at this year’s ceremony.

Luca Pisaroni

He’s a Mozart specialist on our stage, starring in 2007’s Don Giovanni, followed by two different roles in two different productions of The Marriage of Figaro, one in 2010 and the other in 2015. But it’s a Handelian work that brings Italian bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni close to Grammy gold this year. Pisaroni sang Emperor Claudius opposite Joyce DiDonato in Agrippina, nominated for Best Opera Recording this year. It is Pisaroni’s second Grammy nod, following a 2016 recording of The Marriage of Figaro.

Conductor Sir
Donald Runnicles

Up for Best Opera Recording this year is a recording of the opera Der Zwerg from the Deutsche Opera Berlin, featuring the recently knighted Scottish conductor Sir Donald Runnicles. But before Runnicles was leading musical direction at the Deutsche Oper, the now four-time Grammy nominee was musical director for San Francisco Opera, for a tenure stretching from 1992 to 2009.

His work will be on display this March, as we stream our 2018 production of Richard Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung as part of our first-ever online Ring Festival, featuring Runnicles as conductor.

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