Baghdad in Its Golden Age (762-1300)

Marines’ Memorial Theatre, San Francisco

From its founding in 762 as The City of Peace, Baghdad thrived as the political, cultural, religious, and commercial center of the Muslim empire. Abbasid caliphs ruled over diverse populations of Muslims, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, and polytheists, whose ethnic identities ranged from Arab to Persian and Turkish to Berber—all of whom contributed to the brilliance of the greatest city of its time in the Middle East, if not the world. At its House of Wisdom, scholars from across the empire translated into Arabic, synthesized and advanced the fragmented literary and scientific knowledge of ancient Greece, Persia, and India. Chinese paper technology enabled Baghdad bookstores to sell thousands of books a day. Without this chapter in history, the inheritance of antiquity would likely have followed tortured paths to the present. Baghdad’s intellectual and cultural influence was extraordinary in its time, and its legacy—and mythologizing—in the west and east continues to this day.

Friday, April 25, 7:30 pm to 9:30 pm

Introduction.  Fred M Donner (University of Chicago), Moderator

The Elephant from Baghdad: The City of Peace, the West, and the Golden Age of Islam. Paul M Cobb (University of Pennsylvania). Around the year 800 AD, the leader of the Muslim world (Harun al-Rashid of Baghdad), sent an elephant to the leader of the Christian world (Charlemagne of Aachen, in Germany). Whatever for? The various possible answers to that question, it turns out, tell us an awful lot about Islamic civilization in the early Middle Ages, the glory of Baghdad at its height, and the history of relations between the Islamic world and the West. Using this well-traveled elephant as our guide, then, Professor Cobb explores the foreign yet familiar world of Baghdad in its Golden Age.

Performance: In the Fair Garden – Music for the Golden Age of Baghdad.
Gari Hegedus joins acclaimeded Bay Area medieval ensemble Cançonièr, featuring Humanities West favorites Shira Kammen and Tim Rayborn, as they present a tribute to the achievements of this great city, reflecting its status as a center of learning and culture through the beginning of the 13th century. Using medieval and Middle Eastern instruments, the group will present traditional Iraqi songs, early medieval melodies of the Armenians and Eastern Jews, medieval European songs that reference the city, and improvised music.

Saturday, April 26, 10 am to noon and 1:30 to 4:00 pm

Medieval Baghdad: Metropolis and Court; Reading and WritingFred Astren (SFSU). In 762 the caliph al-Mansur imagined a well‐ordered imperial round city, but soon Baghdad thrived as a massively complex urban environ. Then, Islam was a young religion still defining itself; imperial models about Islamic thought were often challenged. One monument of early Islamic culture wars was the Bayt al-Hikma, or House of Wisdom, founded by the caliph al-Ma’mun in a vast movement to translate great writings from the pre-Islamic past into Arabic. Thus began a centuries-long interest in translating from Greek, Syriac, and other languages into Arabic, and later Persian. Abbasid courtly culture, adab, fostered learning about poetry, oratory, grammar, non-Muslim civilizations, and the history of the pre-Islamic Arabs. Accelerating this revolution in literacy advanced by Arabs, Jews, Christians, and others was the paradigm-changing introduction from China of paper. In Abbasid Baghdad we find, in addition to philosophy, law, and literature, the medieval foundations of science, medicine and mathematics constituting intellectual and literary links between the modern world and the distant past.

Imagining Baghdad:The Thousand and One Nights:  the Facts of its Fiction.
Margaret Larkin (UC Berkeley). The well-known collection of popular stories known as The Thousand and One Nights, most famously associated with Harun al-Rashid and the golden age of Baghdad, is a composite work that blends the inherited tales of India and Persia with the indigenous story and textual traditions of Syria, Egypt, and Iraq.  Long denigrated in elite Arabic literary circles because of its linguistic register and sometimes less-than-exalted content, theNights’ story of evolution into a recognized staple of the Arabic literary heritage is itself a complicated tale worthy of this adventure-filled text.  An examination of that journey to the work’s current position in Arabic and world literature, as well as its treatment at the hands of a diversely-motivated cast of translators and adapters, forms the necessary basis for our excursion into the story cycles that make up the text of The Thousand and One Nights.

Art and Architecture during the Golden Age of Islam. Patricia Blessing (Stanford). This lecture discusses the arts and architecture of Islam during the Abbasid period, beginning with the foundation of Baghdad in 762 to the Mongol conquest of the city in 1258. This trajectory will show the capitals of the Abbasid caliphs, Raqqa, Baghdad, and Samarra; the ceramics and rich stucco decoration that were produced in the latter city; book paintings that emerged in the Iraqi city of Wasit in the early 13th century; and illustrations of the Mongol conquest of Baghdad in late 13th-century manuscripts. The lecture will explore these different places and their culture, from court life to entertaining literature, from medical manuscripts to animal motifs on ceramics. Thus, an overview will be provided over the rich Islamicare cultures in the medieval Mediterranean, with a focus on today’s Iraq, yet reaching beyond this central region of the Abbasid realm.

Baghdad: The City of Wisdom (750-1300). Ali Yaycioğlu (Stanford). The Abbasid elites created Baghdad in 762, not only as a political but also as an intellectual center of the Islamic Empire, superseding earlier centers of Islamic expansion at Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem and Damascus. Baghdad’s round shape was seen as the manifestation of the new Islamic cosmology, and the Abbasid court became the primary patron of the wise men who fostered Islamic philosophy and Arabic literature. The new cosmology of Islam in the 8th and 9th centuries was materialized in a newly designed urban space, and the vibrant intellectual life and court politics of Baghdad shaped what was later called the Golden Age of Islam. Baghdad survived as one of the cultural centers of the Islamic world until the Mongol conquest in 1258 caused its destruction and marginalization in the Islamic world. However, the image of Baghdad as the city of wisdom continued to shape the collective memory of the Muslim cultural world throughout centuries.

Panel Discussion with Presenters Moderated by Fred M. Donner


Nicholas Al-Jeloo (PhD in Syriac Studies, Sydney, 2013) is an Australian-born Assyrian, and is currently an independent researcher and scholar at the beginning of his academic career. He also holds an MA in Eastern Christianity from Leiden University, and a BA in Classical Hebrew from the University of Sydney. He works on classical Syriac and modern Aramaic literature, ethno-religious and linguistic minorities, as well as the social and cultural history of ethnic Assyrians in the medieval and modern periods. In addition to his experience as a socio-cultural historian, he has conducted fieldwork across the Middle East. He has taught Syriac at the University of Sydney and his books include a Modern Aramaic (Assyrian/Syriac) Dictionary and Phrasebook (2007) and the exhibit catalogue Persistence and Existence (2010). He has also written a number of scholarly articles, including an introduction to the genre of medicinal, astrological and magical texts in Syriac. Presently, he is writing a book on Assyrians in Iran during the pre-modern and early modern periods.

Fred Astren is Professor and Chair of the Department of Jewish Studies at San Francisco State University. He received his PhD in Near Eastern Studies from the University of California at Berkeley in 1993. He holds a B.E.S. degree from the University of Minnesota with specialization in medieval history and an MA in Arabic from UC Berkeley. Areas of research include minority/sectarian history and sacred history in the Mediterranean Middle Ages, with special focus on Jewish history under Islam, Jewish-Muslim relations, and the Karaite Jewish sect. He is currently writing a book on Jews in the Mediterranean of the early Middle Ages.

Patricia Blessing (PhD in Art and Archeology, Princeton) studies the art and architecture of the Islamic world, focusing on transcultural interactions in the Middle Ages. Her dissertation, Reframing the Lands of Rūm—Architecture and Style in Eastern Anatolia (1240-1320 CE) investigates the relationship between patronage, architecture, and style, paying close attention to mobility fostered by trans-imperial networks stretching from Anatolia to Central Asia. In addition to her experience as an art historian, she has excavated in Syria, Uzbekistan, and Turkey. Patricia completed undergraduate work in Near Eastern Studies, art history, and comparative literature in Geneva (Switzerland) and Bamberg (Germany) and her MA from Princeton. She is a Visiting Scholar in the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies and a Visiting Lecturer in Art and Art History at Stanford.

Paul M. Cobb is Professor of Islamic History at the University of Pennsylvania. He received his PhD in 1997 from the University of Chicago and has lived in and traveled widely throughout Europe and the Middle East. He is a social and cultural historian of the medieval Islamic world, and, in particular of Islam’s relationship with the medieval West. He is the author or editor of many books and articles, including, White Banners: Contention in Abbasid Syria (2001), The Book of Contemplation: Islam and the Crusades, for Penguin Classics (2008), and most recently, The Race for Paradise: An Islamic History of the Crusades.

Created by multi-instrumentalist Tim Rayborn and recorder virtuosoAnnette Bauer, the group Cançonièr features for this performance the talents of Humanities West favorites Tim Rayborn and Shira Kammen. Founded in the summer of 2008, Cançonièr has established itself as a distinguished medieval ensemble, well-known for its innovative programs with unusual subjects. The group has performed at a number of noted early music series around the country, and its recording “The Black Dragon – Music from the Time of Vlad Dracula,” has been called “exquisite” by Early Music America magazine, and “mesmerizing” by

Fred M. Donner (PhD, Princeton) is Professor of Near Eastern History at The University of Chicago. Earlier he studied Arabic in Lebanon and Oriental Philology at the University of Erlangen, Germany and then taught at Yale, moving to U of C in 1982. His books include The Early Islamic Conquests (1981), Narratives of Islamic Origins (1997), and Muhammad and the Believers: at the Origins of Islam (2010). He has translated a volume of the medieval Arabic chronicle of al-Tabari (1993), written over forty scholarly articles, numerous encyclopedia entries, and scores of reviews, and has received research fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. He has served as President of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, and in 2008 he received MESA’s Jere L. Bacharach Award for Service to the Profession of Middle Eastern Studies.

Margaret Larkin (PhD, Columbia, 1989) is Professor of Arabic Literature at UC Berkeley. She works on both classical and modern Arabic literature in literary and colloquial Arabic. She was named the 2010 Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Department of Arabic and Islamic Civilizations at the American University in Cairo. Professor Larkin is currently working on a publication exploring the tenth century poet, Abu’l-Tayyib al-Mutanabbī, which includes a series of studies on the inter-textual engagement with al-Mutanabbī’s poetry by successive generations of Arab poets. Selected publications include Al-Mutanabbī: Voice of the ‘Abbasid Poetic Ideal(Oneworld Publications, 2008); “Al-Jurjani” in Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia (Routledge, 2005); The Theology of Meaning: Abd al-Qahir al-Jurjani’s Theory of Discourse (American Oriental Society, 1995).

Ali Yaycioğlu (Assistant Professor, History, Stanford) was born and grew up in Ankara Turkey, where he completed his B.S. in International Relations at Middle East Technical University. He studied Ottoman History at Bilkent University and Islamic History at McGill University and completed his PhD in History and Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard. He did postdoctoral study in the Program of Hellenic Studies at Princeton University. His main research interest is the Middle East and the Balkans under the Ottoman Empire. His forthcoming book is Partners of the Empire: The Rise of Provincial Notables and the Crisis of the Ottoman Order (1700-1820. His primary teaching focus is the early modern Middle East and Southeast Europe, and the history of the Ottoman Empire. In addition to Ottoman History, his teaching interests span history of the broader Islamic World; empires, markets and networks in global context of the early modern period; and memory studies.


Constantinople and the Byzantine Millennium (330-1453)

Marines’ Memorial Theatre, San Francisco

The fall of the Roman Empire is often seen as a major dividing line in European history, but its offshoot, the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire, lived on from 330 to 1453, providing continuity as a fascinating cultural and political power. In fact, the Byzantines thought of themselves as Romans, while imposing a predominantly Greek culture and Eastern Orthodox religion over their multiethnic territories, dominating the eastern Mediterranean, Southern Italy, the Balkans, and North Africa. The Byzantine Empire bridged east and west, ancient and modern, until overwhelmed by the rising power of the Ottoman Turks.

Presented in collaboration with the Consul General of Greece in San Francisco.

Friday, February 28, 7:30 to 9:45 pm

PerformancePeter Kalafatis and the Belmont Dancing Group Enomenoi

Performance: Anthology of Byzantine MelodiesReverends Apostolos Koufallakis, Nikos Bekris, John Kololas, Dimosthenis Paraskevaidis, Nebojsa Pantic, Michael Prevas, Alex Leong, Peter Salmas, Jon Magoulias, and Aris Metrakos; and George Haris and Basil Crow perform under the direction of Costas Haralambopoulos (Annunciation Cathedral, San Francisco)

Byzantium as a World CivilizationMaria Mavroudi (UC Berkeley). Nineteenth- and early twentieth-century scholars assigned Byzantium a marginal role in the development of world civilization, one limited to the preservation of “classical” Greek texts. However, the Greek texts chosen for translation into Latin and Arabic during the medieval period indicate that Byzantium’s contemporaries were not primarily interested in its pagan Greek heritage but in its Christian and Roman traditions, especially since the Byzantine state viewed itself (and was also viewed by its Eastern neighbors) as the continuation of the Roman empire. Consequently, they chose to translate a great number of biblical, patristic, hagiographical, liturgical, and legal texts, while the Arabic and Latin translations of pagan Greek texts were influenced by Byzantium’s monotheistic understanding of their content. We also have Byzantine translations of medieval Latin and Arabic texts. This suggests that the Greek, Latin, and Arabic Middle Ages were all interested in the same larger philosophical and scientific questions and occasionally exchanged ideas on them.

Saturday, March 1, 10 am to noon and 1:30 to 4:00 pm

Constantinople – the New Rome in Late Antiquity. Rossitza Schroeder (Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley). The city of Constantinople was named New Rome or Second Rome very soon after its foundation in AD 324; over the next two hundred years it replaced the original Rome as the greatest city of the Mediterranean. How did perceptions of Rome and Constantinople change? Who were the new emperors and how did they live in their new capital? What role did the New Rome’s new religion, Christianity, play?

The Many Faces of Byzantium: Ideologies of Power from Constantine to Mehmed the Conqueror. Dimiter Angelov (University of Birmingham, UK and Harvard). The Byzantine Empire (330-1453) was the direct successor to imperial Rome in the eastern Mediterranean—a flourishing civilization that received, preserved, and reinterpreted many of the political and intellectual traditions of antiquity. What was the political ideology of Byzantium throughout its millennial existence? How was it constructed, communicated, and questioned throughout the centuries? The original voices of Byzantine thinkers and the powerful images produced by Byzantine artists will help to answer these and other questions, bringing to life a rich world of politics, imagination, and continual change and rediscovery of the past.

Performance: Holy Trinity Youth Choir, with Anysia Dumont

Hagia Sophia and Multi-Sensory Aesthetics. Bissera Pentcheva (Stanford). Focusing on the 6th-century interior of the church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, Professor Pentcheva explores the optical shimmer of marble and gold and its psychological effect on the spectator as recorded in Byzantine ekphrasis and liturgical texts. In turn, this optical shimmer, marmarygma in Greek, is linked to the acoustic properties of marble, especially its capacity to reflect sound waves. The meaning of the optical and acoustic reflection is related to the Eucharist rite and more specifically to the concept of animation, empsychosis. The exploration of acoustics is further deepened by the use of the sound of exploding balloons and modern digital technology to measure the reverberation time of the interior and to generate with its aid computer auralizations of Byzantine chant, recorded anechoically (with minimal room acoustics).  Combining literary analysis, philological inquiry, and scientific research, this study uncovers the multi-sensory aesthetics of Hagia Sophia and recuperates the notion of aural architecture.

Constantinople and the Generation of Orthodox Painting, Sharon E. J. Gerstel (UCLA). The legacy of Byzantium can be traced in the remains of thousands of painted churches that still stand and serve for common worship. Looking at the remains of monumental decoration in the Byzantine capital, both painted and mosaic, can one characterize an art form that was uniquely metropolitan? What was the role of the capital in the creation and dissemination of artistic styles and subjects? Professor Gerstel looks at the last and most famous phase of ecclesiastical decoration in the Byzantine capital (1261-1453), and its echoes in other regions of the empire.

Panel Discussion with Presenters Moderated by George Hammond (Humanities West) 


Dimiter Angelov is Professor of Byzantine History, Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies, University of Birmingham, UK, and Visiting Associate Professor, Harvard. His research and teaching interests lie in the intellectual, political and institutional history of the Byzantine Empire, with a particular focus on the 13th-15th centuries. His book on imperial ideology and political thought in Byzantium (1204-1330) (2007) examined little known texts in order to shed light on the political imagination of the Byzantines, who saw their empire being transformed into a second-rate power in the Eastern Mediterranean. He is currently working on a monograph on the Byzantine crown prince, emperor and philosopher Theodore II Laskaris (1221/22-1258); the study makes use of the analytical and discursive potential of historical biography to open up a broader vista on the transformation of Byzantine culture after the fall of Constantinople in 1204.

The Enomenoi Dancers are from the Church Of The Holy Cross in Belmont. Enomenoi is directed by Peter Kalafatis. Peter has been involved with Greek dancing for over 38 years – performing with several Greek Folk Dance groups all over the West Coast. For the last several years he has been able to pass on his love of Greek dancing by directing the Enomenoi Dance Group. Enomenoi has been invited to perform at venues all across the state of California, as well as Nevada. Enomenoi has participated in the annual Greek Folk Dance Festival, and has won multiple awards for their performances.

Sharon E. J. Gerstel is Professor of Byzantine Art History and Archaeology, UCLA. Trained in art history and religious studies, Gerstel’s work focuses on the intersection of ritual and art, particularly monumental painting. Selected publications include Beholding the Sacred Mysteries (1999); A Lost Art Rediscovered: The Architectural Ceramics of Byzantium (with J. Lauffenburger) (2001), Thresholds of the Sacred: Art Historical, Archaeological, Liturgical and Theological Views on Religious Screens, East and West (2007), and Viewing the Morea: Land and People in the Late Medieval Peloponnese (2013). Awards include a membership at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, and a J. Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in 2011-2012 to complete Landscapes of the Village: The Devotional Life and Setting of the Late Byzantine Peasant (forthcoming Cambridge). She has also published numerous articles on Byzantine women, including empresses, village widows, and rural nuns.

Maria Mavroudi is Professor of Byzantine History, UC Berkeley (PhD, Byzantine Studies, Harvard; MA, Byzantine Literature, Harvard; BA, Philology, University of Thessaloniki, Greece). Her research interests include Byzantium and the Arabs; bilinguals in the Middle Ages; Byzantine and Islamic science; the recycling of the ancient tradition between Byzantium and Islam; Byzantine intellectual history; and the survival and transformation of Byzantine culture after 1453. Selected publications includeThe Occult Sciences in Byzantium, ed. with Paul Magdalino (2007); A Byzantine Book on Dream Interpretation: The Oneirocriticon of Achmet and Its Arabic Sources (2002); Artemidorou Oneirocritica. Translation of a 2nd century A.D. manual on dream interpretation from Classical into Modern Greek and Introduction (2002). Her numerous honors and awards include a MacArthur Fellowship (2004-09), fellowships at Princeton and Dumbarton Oaks, and a Whiting Fellowship in the Humanities for Dissertation Completion.

Bissera Pentcheva is Associate Professor, Art & Art History, Stanford (PhD Harvard). Her work focuses on aesthetics and phenomenology of Byzantine Art. Publications include The Sensual Icon: Space, Ritual, and the Senses in Byzantium (2010), and Icons and Power: The Mother of God in Byzantium(2006), awarded the John Nicholas Brown Prize 2010 of the Medieval Academy of America for an outstanding first monograph in Medieval Studies. Her recent research on architectural psychoacoustics of Hagia Sophia is in collaboration with Jonathan Abel (Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics) and was awarded the Presidential Fund for Innovation in the Humanities and two grants from Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts (learn more here). Pentcheva has held fellowships from Mellon New Directions, Alexander von Humboldt, Dumbarton Oaks, and the Onassis Foundation. In 2007 she taught a graduate seminar on Phenomenology of the Byzantine Icon at the Kunsthistorisches Institut, Florence.

Rossitza Schroeder is Assistant Professor of Art and Religion at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. She works and publishes on Byzantine monastic arts, Italo-Byzantine cultural exchange, and heritage studies. Schroeder has held fellowships at the American School of Classical Studies, Dumbarton Oaks, and the Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies at Princeton University.


Verdi’s Masterwork: Opera and the Birth of Modern Italy

Marines’ Memorial Theatre, San Francisco

In the early 19th Century, Italy was essentially a “geographical expression,” a patchwork of principalities spread across islands and peninsulas, dominated by foreign powers. By century’s end it had united as the independent Kingdom of Italy, its people citizens of a modern nation with an emerging common culture and language. The great Giuseppe Verdi became the leading artist of this resurgent movement, the “Risorgimento.” In his operatic masterworks he brought to the stage the values and issues of the reunification, giving vivid creative expression to the ideals of his time. His stirring and melodious music provided a common bond for peoples divided by political boundaries, customs, and dialects. Verdi’s life—his humble beginnings, his professional triumphs and family tragedies, his moral integrity, his patriotic yearnings—symbolized an emerging nation’s vital spirit. Verdi’s life and art were transformed by the Risorgimento and in turn helped to transform it.

Presented in collaboration with the San Francisco Opera, Consul General of Italy, Italian Cultural Institute, and the Leonardo da Vinci Society, celebrating 2013 as the Year of Italian Culture in the US.

Verdi: “Let’s go back to the old times and we will have made some progress.”

Friday, 7:30 pm to 9:30 pm

Giuseppe Verdi and the Risorgimento. William Berger (Metropolitan Opera). Verdi was a true Italian patriot who served his nation as a statesman as well as an artist. The operas of his youth became identified as “Risorgimento” art filled with both explicit and hidden revolutionary messages. His personal experiences—combined with the “escape-from-tyranny” literary tastes of his time—led him to create operas that resonated with the nationalist aspirations of the nascent Italian nation. Embraced as the musical manifestation of the “Risorgimento,” Verdi found his name employed in the late 1850s as a political slogan: “Viva VERDI,” an acronym for “Viva VittorioEmmanuale Re D’Italia,” “Long Live Victor Emmanuel II, King of Italy.” This keynote lecture examines Verdi’s works from the 1840s through the time he became a member of the first national Parliament in 1861, capped by works that became forever identified with the spirit and dream of the Risorgimento, Nabucco and Ernani.

O PATRIA MIA: Bringing Patriotism to Life on the Stage. Clifford (Kip) Cranna (San Francisco Opera). What does patriotism sound like? What does it look like? Opera producers confront this problem often when they stage Verdi’s operas, with their veiled, and sometimes overt, expressions of patriotic longing, rebellion against oppression, and nationalistic aspiration. In this lecture-demonstration, video examples will explore the ways in which opera companies of our era have made these scenes unfold for modern audiences, while live performances  will help bring us into Verdi’s emotional world of personal devotion to homeland. Accompanied by Ron Valentinoon the piano, soprano Hope Briggs performs “Ritorna vincitor” and “O patria mia” from Verdi’sAida.

Saturday, 10:00 am to noon and 1:30 pm to 4:00 pm

Verdi and Garibaldi: Heroes of the RisorgimentoGiovanna Ceserani (Stanford). Italians in the 19th  Century, dreaming of a unified nation, nourished their hopes by insistently turning to the past. History—with its relics and its heroes—was everywhere in the formative years of the Risorgimento: in novels, in paintings, in operas. Excavations of ancient Rome brought monuments associated with ancient democratic ideals into plain view. Political thinkers reflected on which ideas and heroes from the past might catalyze their dream of a unified Italy. Giuseppe Garibaldi fashioned a heroic persona for himself out of the materials provided by romantic literature. The heroic characters and revolutionary feelings of Giuseppe Verdi’s operas emerge from this very same world of Risorgimento ideals. This lecture considers the influence of the Risorgimento on Verdi, in order to illuminate his musical work, but also to provide for a deeper appreciation of the parallel lives led by two heroes of the Risorgimento: Garibaldi, its chief military architect, and Verdi, whose music provides a kind of soundtrack to that same effort.

How to Listen to VerdiClifford (Kip) Cranna. The music of Verdi’s operas is compelling, uplifting, dramatic, and full of melody. But what’s behind the structure and the shape of the music? Verdi’s innovative and imaginative approach to opera broke new ground, but was nonetheless based on established operatic practice. Can understanding the musical and dramatic construction of a Verdian scene help the listener to appreciate and enjoy it even more? Kip Cranna explores this question with an analysis of how Verdi scenes are put together, using video and live musical examples to help us to a new perspective on a great musical genius at work. Cheryl Cain(soprano) performs “Ah, fors’è lui . . . Sempre libera” from Verdi’s La Traviata, accompanied byRon Valentino. With Chris Coyne (tenor).

Risorgimento Fantasies. Mary Ann Smart (UC Berkeley). What kinds of political messages did audiences in 19th-century Italy hear in the opera of their time?  Censorship of the press and the theater meant that very few overt statements were made that linked opera to political ideas. Yet some of the most influential players in the operatic world were also central figures in the revolutionary movements of the 1830s and 1840s. To mention just a few of these connections, Donizetti collaborated on his I puritani with the exiled poet Count Carlo Pepoli, and on Marino Faliero and Don Pasquale with the Ruffini brothers, who had been boyhood friends of Giuseppe Mazzini, founder of the “Young Italy” movement. Professor Smart examines the political ideas that swirled around the edges of the operatic world, voiced by poets, journalists, and theater officials, and explore how those ideas found their way into the music.

Verdi, Shakespeare, and Falstaff. William Berger (Metropolitan Opera). Verdi’s life-long love affair with the plays of Shakespeare resulted in only three actual settings of Shakespearean plays,Macbeth (1847 and 1865), Otello (1887), and Falstaff (1893), two coming near the end of his life, when the appearance of Boito as librettist offered the composer new motivation to write operas. Although the composer long hoped to create musical settings based on other plays, especially King Lear, he does not seem to have undertaken any actual composition for them. Boito brilliantly wove together into Falstaff, Verdi’s last opera, based essentially on The Merry Wives of Windsor, the appearances of “fat Jack” in Henry IV. Verdi’s score is a masterpiece of free composition, but it has its roots in earlier Italian opera, sometimes even quoting his earlier works ironically (think of Mistress Quickly’s “Povera donna,” which quotes from La Traviata). Verdi often said that, while he admired Wagner, he remained Italian to his core.

Panel Discussion with Presenters Moderated by George Hammond (Humanities West)


William Berger (Creative Content Producer, Metropolitan Opera) studied Italian Literature and Latin Literature at the UC Santa Cruz, working part time at San Francisco Opera. He has lived in New York City since, where he taught Italian part time at Baruch College for 12 years and worked in the design industry. In the 1990s, he concentrated writing on music and opera and also worked on theater pieces. He is the author Wagner Without Fear, Verdi With a Vengeance, and Puccini Without Excuses, and has contributed articles for many opera companies, including Seattle, San Francisco, Washington National, the Liceu of Barcelona, Austin Lyric, and, most recently, the Los Angeles Opera. He hosted WNYC’s Overnight Music from 2004-2006 and created the show El Salón, focusing on the role of Hispanic culture in classical music. Since 2006, at the Metropolitan Opera he writes for programs, website, and radio programs, is a producer of the Saturday afternoon broadcasts, and is the on-air commentator for Metropolitan Opera Radio on SiriusXM, appearing as the commentator in the 2011 film Wagner’s Dream. He is a frequent lecturer in venues including the Embassy of Finland, Smithsonian Institute, Italian Cultural Foundation of New York, Boston University, Seattle Opera, Dorothea’s House of Princeton, and the Wagner Societies of New York, Washington, Boston, Chicago, and Dallas.

Hope Briggs (soprano) made her San Francisco Opera debut as the Duchess of Parma in Busoni’s Doktor Faust. Other operatic roles have included Die Zauberflöte at Frankfurt Opera, Le nozze di Figaro and Carmen at Opera Company of Brooklyn, Don Giovanni and Die Zauberflöte at Opera San Jose, Suor Angelica at Pacific Repertory Opera, Il Trovatore and Don Giovanni at Operesque Classical Concerts, and Houston Grand Opera’s National Tour of Porgy and Bess. She created the role of Paula in Hector Armienta’s River of Women. Her concerts include Verdi’s Requiem, Mozart’s Coronation Mass and Requiem, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras, Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise and Lailstork’s I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes. She was featured soloist in San Francisco Symphony’s Wondrous Sounds of Christmas; Marion J. Caffey’s Three Mo’ Divas and the Rev. Billy Graham Crusade. Her awards include National Finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, Metropolitan Opera International Vocal Competition Award, and the Encouragement Award of Licia Albanese Puccini Foundation.

Cheryl Cain is a professional singer, violinist and teacher in San Francisco. She performs with the San Francisco Opera, the San Francisco Symphony, American Bach Soloists, and San Francisco Renaissance Voices. She has her Bachelor of Music degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and her Master of Music degree from the Manhattan School of Music, and she continued her studies in opera in Florence, Italy. She is a member of the American Guild of Musical Artists and the National Association of Teachers of Singing. She has performed in operas in both San Francisco and New York and as a soloist throughout North America and Europe. She is a regular soloist at the San Francisco Swedenborgian Church and teaches voice, violin and more.

Praised as having a “naturally clear voice” (La Scena Musicale) and noted as a “…striking tenor, with fine diction [and] a passionate delivery…” (SF Classical Voice), Chris Coyne has most recently played the role of Lurcanio in Handel’s Ariodante, Jean in the world premiere of Debussy’s Le Diable Dans le Beffroi, as well as Ferrando in Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte, conducted by maestro David Agler. Other credits include the Tenor Soloist in the Verdi Requiem, Barinkay in Der Zigeunerbaron, Colin in Le Devin du Village, and Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus. Future engagements include Count Almaviva in Barber of Seville with the SF Opera Guild outreach as well as Don Ottavio in a concert performance of Don Giovanni with the Cathedral Bluffs Symphony Orchestra in Toronto. Chris is a laureate of the Jeunes Ambassadeurs Lyriques International Competition, and was invited for workstudy at both the Opera Studio Nederlands and the Bayerische Staatsoper. Additionally the Stara Zagora (Bulgaria) and the Sletzke Divadlo (Prague) opera houses have shown an interest in the young talent.

Giovanna Ceserani (Associate Professor of Classics and, by courtesy, History, Stanford) is an intellectual historian of modern Europe, focusing on the history of classical scholarship, historiography and archaeology from the 18th-century onwards. She is interested in the role that Hellenism and Classics played in the shaping of modernity and in how the questions we ask of the classical past originate in specific modern cultural, social and political contexts. She is the author of Italy’s Lost Greece: Magna Graecia and the making of modern archaeology (Oxford, 2012). She is now writing on the emergence of modern histories of ancient Greece and on modern travels to ancient lands. For this project she was awarded a Mellon New Directions Fellowship in 2012-13. Her interest in travel engages new digital approaches with a focus on the Grand Tour for the Stanford digital humanities project, ‘Mapping the Republic of Letters.’

Clifford (Kip) Cranna, Director of Music Administration at San Francisco Opera, has served on the staff since 1979. He holds a BA in music from the University of North Dakota and a PhD in musicology from Stanford University. He has served as vocal adjudicator for numerous groups including the Metropolitan Opera National Council. For thirty years he was Program Editor and Lecturer for the Carmel Bach Festival. He lectures and writes frequently on music, teaches at the San Francisco Conservatory, and often moderates panel discussions such as the Opera Guild “Insights.” In 2008 he was awarded the San Francisco Opera Medal, the company’s highest honor, and in 2012 he received the Bernard Osher Cultural Award for distinguished efforts to bring excellence to a cultural institution. Dr. Cranna is a member of the Board of Trustees of Chanticleer, a professional vocal ensemble, and of Humanities West. He is on the Advisory Board of the contemporary music group Opera Parallele.

Ronald Gallman, the San Francisco Symphony’s Director of Education Programs, is an educator who has written and lectured extensively on symphonic music, chamber music, and opera. Gallman manages the San Francisco Symphony’s extensive slate of education programs, including the Symphony’s pre-concert lecture series, Inside Music.  He has written program notes for the San Francisco Symphony’s program book and created educational materials for students, teachers, and families.  Gallman has also presented lectures at the San Francisco Opera and the New World Symphony, and provided program notes for the New York Philharmonic’s Chamber Music Series, the Boston Symphony, the San Francisco Opera and SF Opera Guild, the Opera Theater of Saint Louis, and New World Records.

Mary Ann Smart is a professor of musicology at UC Berkeley. She is author of Mimomania: Music and Gesture in Nineteenth-Century Opera (California, 2004) and editor of the critical edition of Donizetti’s Dom Sébastien.  Her book on opera and political opinion in 19th-century Italy, Waiting for Verdi, will be published in 2013. Her recent work tackles the old question of the political meanings of Italian opera in Verdi’s lifetime, during the fight for Italian unification known as the “risorgimento.” The book she is currently writing, Risorgimento Fantasies: Italian Opera and Italian Politics to 1848, locates the debate about opera’s political significance not in the symbolism of plots or musical structures, nor in the personal opinions of the composers involved, but in networks of political activism and opinion formation that granted a central place to opera.

Pianist Ron Valentino has performed with many of today’s best-known classical artists, including Ruth Ann Swenson, Nathan Gunn and Deborah Voigt. In addition to concert work Mr. Valentino has been on the music staff of the San Francisco Opera and Opera Center, Los Angeles Opera and the New National Theatre in Tokyo. Ron has also performed with the San Francisco Symphony, California Symphony and the Sacramento Symphony. Additional credits include the American Conservatory Theatre and the record breaking San Francisco production of Phantom of the Opera. A resident of San Francisco, Ron enjoys traveling and hiking.