Persian soprano Raeeka Shehabi-Yaghmai possesses a unique fusion of versatility, strength, and sensitivity in both her singing and stage presence – a combination that is earning her the acclaim of audiences and critics alike. Characterized as “entrancing,” she has been described as volcanic and compassionate, visually enticing, instinctual, and totally committed.
Making her foray into the lyric soprano repertoire, Raeeka made her soprano debut in the role of Donna Elvira with both Project Opera and Redwood Symphony in 2011. Her 2015-16 season includes performances of Jenny Smith (The Rise and Fall of Mahagonny) and Mahler Symphony No. 8 with Redwood Symphony, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with Prometheus Symphony, Despina (Così fan tutte) and Cinderella’s Step Mother (Into the Woods) with Center Stage Opera, Mrs. Gleaton (Susannah) with Pasadena Opera, Susanna (Le nozze di Figaro) with Berkeley Chamber Orchestra, and Chrysothemis (Elektra) in a private performance produced by Maestro Kent Nagano. Previous seasons include the roles of Cio-Cio San (Madama Butterfly), Norina (Don Pasquale), Violetta (La Traviata), Nedda (Pagliacci), and Mimì (La Bohème). In the 2012-13 season, she was the guest soloist in New York City for the PAAIA Gala Benefit, where she performed pieces by composer/conductor Loris Tjeknavorian. Earlier in the same season, she was invited to perform at the prestigious San Francisco Herbst Theatre for the City’s inaugural ceremony for the Sheriff-Elect, and joined Maestro Tjeknavorian to perform in an orchestral concert in Los Angeles.
Formerly in the mezzo-soprano repertoire, her operatic credits include Poppea and Ottavia (L’incoronazione di Poppea), Prince Orlofsky (Die Fledermaus), Rosina (Il trionfo dell’onore), Zerlina (Don Giovanni), Cherubino (Le nozze di Figaro), Dorabella (Così fan tutte), Siebel (Faust), Suzuki (Madama Butterfly), Flora (La Traviata), Lola (Cavalleria Rusticana), Hansel (Hansel and Gretel), Polina (Pique Dame), Mrs. Page (Merry Wives of Windsor), Nancy (Albert Herring), Mother (Amahl and the Night Visitors), Dinah (Trouble in Tahiti), and the title roles in Carmen, Iolanthe and La Perichole.
Raeeka made her European debut singing the title role in Carmen at Opera Brasov in Romania. A favorite on the West Coast, she has worked with companies including San Francisco Opera Center, North Bay Opera, El Dorado Opera, Livermore Opera, Oakland Opera theatre, Bear Valley Music Festival, Mendocino Music Festival, Festival del Sol, Orchestra Nova, West Bay Opera, San Francisco Philharmonic, and Center Stage Opera, among others.
Equally at home in the solo concert and recital repertoire, Ms Shehabi-Yaghmai’s concert work includes Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, the Mozart Coronation Mass and Requiem, the Bach Magnificat, and Haydn’s Mass for Prince Nicolai and Lord Nelson Mass. She is much sought after for her expressive and well-balanced programs and has been engaged for guest performances by Salinas College, Brand Library, Iranian Women Scholarship Foundation, California State University of Northridge Alumni Performances, San Francisco Conservatory of Music Faculty Performances, and Ensemble Parallèle. Raeeka is a frequent performer of new music and was featured in composer Alden Jenks’ world premier of his electronic chamber opera entitled The Soup. She frequently receives performance opportunities due to her ability to learn music quickly and accurately.
An avid interpreter of Persian folksong and melodies, Raeeka founded the Persian Melody Project (PMP) and has done extensive research on the genre. In 2007 she began collaboration with composer David Garner, and in 2008 the project was awarded a generous grant from the Unique Zan Foundation. Ms. Shehabi-Yaghmai’s recital for the well-known Brand Library Music Series (Glendale, CA) marked the debut performance of a number of Persian song melodies arranged for piano and voice. She has performed this music as a featured soloist with the Oakland East Bay Symphony, Monterey Symphony, and in Heidelberg, Germany, among many other distinguished foundation and gala events. In 2014, she performed a number of the selections from PMP arranged for orchestra with Redwood Symphony and at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s Faculty Artist Series showcasing works of composer David Garner accompanied by piano, cello and daf (a form of Persian drum). The Project’s first CD will be recorded in June 2016.
Ms. Shehabi-Yaghmai was chosen as a semi finalist for the New York Lyric Opera Competition as well as a finalist for the prestigious Merola auditions, where after she was hired as a resident artist with the San Francisco Opera Center. Ms. Shehabi-Yaghmai holds a Bachelor of Music (Magna Cum Laude) from California State University of Northridge and a Master of Music and a Post Graduate Artist’s Diploma from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. An avid supporter of young artist education, she established the Taneen Opera Summer Opera Workshop in San Francisco in 2005, which serves to train aspiring beginning level opera singers who wish to gain experience in the performing arts.
Well-known and often performed, composer David Garner’s body of work reflects his historical knowledge, theatrical flair and humor. Garner has taught composition, theory, literature and chamber music at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music since 1979. He won the 2015 American Prize in Composition, was a finalist for the 2014 American Prize, won the 2014 Hal Leonard Labor of Love online publishing prize, and was nominated for the 2013 American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Composition
Recent CD releases by Pentatone Classics feature his vocal chamber works Vilna Poems, on “The Hours Begin to Sing”, and Three Carols, on “December Celebration”. In April Centaur Records will release “Surviving: Women’s Words”, a CD of four of Garner’s song-cycles setting poetry by women survivors or contemporaries of the Holocaust.
Garner has just completed his two-act opera, Mary Pleasant at Land’s End. Set in 1880’s San Francisco, the libretto by long-time friend and collaborator tenor Mark Hernandez is an intense drama of historical fiction and promises to be a tour-de-force in 21st Century opera. www.davidgarner.us
The project’s original pianist collaborator was Kristin Pankonin, who upon hearing the songs for the first time was eager to be involved with the project. Kristin, who had been Raeeka’s vocal coach since 2004, read the pieces as if she already knew them. She was already a long-time pianist of choice for David Garner, and so having her as part of the creative team was a natural, obvious choice. Kristin was named the official pianist of the Persian Melody Project. She worked closely with David and Raeeka, even after being diagnosed with a rare form of terminal cancer in 2009. Kristin and Raeeka were to perform many concerts together from 2008 on and recorded some of the songs in 2012. She worked closely with Raeeka and David on the project until her passing in 2014.
Treasured for her technical facility, disarming geniality, and rare musicality, Kristin was much in demand until the end of her life. In addition to working with hundreds of students, she collaborated with numerous distinguished artists including vocalists Christine Abraham, Francisco Araiza, Marnie Breckenridge, Zheng Cao, Catherine Cook, Lisa Delan, Susanne Mentzer, and Frederica von Stade; cellist Matt Haimovitz; and many others. Especially acclaimed for new music, Kristin enjoyed working with living composers such as Mark Adamo, John Corigliano, Jake Heggie, and Luna Pearl Woolf. She was a particular favorite of composers David Garner and Gordon Getty.