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Emma McNairy | Soprano

Emma McNairy | Soprano

Allan Ulrich, The Financial Times, 7/27/15

In the title role, Emma McNairy combined physical allure, arching, silvery soprano and superior German. Beyond vocal splendour, this Lulu succeeded in projecting an oddly enigmatic image, a reflection of the desires of those whom she has ensnared. 

Jeffery S. McMillan, Opera News, 7/25/15

In voice, figure, and deportment, it is difficult to image wanting more from a Lulu than what soprano Emma McNairy presented in her role debut. Possessing a voice of unexpected range, power, and endurance for so young an artist, not to mention a pure silvery tone from bottom to ringing top, McNairy's portrayal moved from strength to strength throughout the performance, communicating the character's accumulation of experience with fearless poise. Her decline after serving time in prison for murdering Dr. Schön was pitiful and sympathetic. The clarity of her diction and powerful emission filled the room with ease, and she dominated each scene until Lulu's luck finally runs out at the hands of Jack the Ripper.



Joshua Kosman, The San Francisco Chronicle, 7/26/15


Emma McNairy is the embodiment of sexual enchantment, of fundamental and amoral urges in West Edge Opera’s “Lulu.”

There is plenty of credit to spread around for the production’s success, but the evening’s obvious centerpiece is soprano Emma McNairy’s breathtakingly fine performance in the title role.

The challenges of this assignment are legion. As the embodiment of sexual enchantment, of fundamental and amoral urges, Lulu is the object of everyone else’s desire without existing as a character in her own right. Yet Berg gives her the opera’s most ardent and expressive vocal writing, a demanding and extended stream of melody that is at once angular, forceful and glitteringly alluring.

It falls to the soprano to bridge that gap — to uncover the gleaming sensuality that lies just below the surface of Berg’s twelve-tone musical language — and McNairy did that flawlessly. She caressed and cajoled the notes until they shimmered; she unleashed potent, high-flying bursts of fine-tuned melody, then dropped into conversational stretches of pointed eloquence.

And in a superb bit of theatrical jujitsu, McNairy took the physical degradations of the assignment and turned them back onto the world. Director Elkhanah Pulitzer was merciless in what she required of McNairy, from complete onstage nudity to extravagantly detailed simulations of sex, and from each one McNairy emerged even more dignified and assured.

If McNairy was the evening’s lodestar, the rest of the cast, under the crisp but flexible leadership of Music Director Jonathan Khuner, held up its end with vibrant aplomb.








Lulu | West Edge Opera | 2015

photo by Lucille Lawrence

photo by Lucille Lawrence

photo by Lucille Lawrence

photo by Lucille Lawrence

photo by Lucille Lawrence

photo by Lucille Lawrence


Jeff Dunn, San Francisco Classical Voice, 7/28/15

And onstage, coloratura Emma McNairy was the sexiest and most vocally agile Lulu imaginable. In an opera driven by the primordial urge to copulate, director Elkhanah Pulitzer made sure that McNairy utilized every inch of her body to fullest effect. 



Charlise Tiee, KQED Arts, 7/29/15

In the role of Lulu, Emma McNairy has clearly come into her own. Her commitment to the character is unequivocal and her sound is agile despite how easily those piercing high notes could have rung shrill or hollow. 

Georgia Rowe, San Jose Mercury News, 7/27/15

Heading a strong cast was the sensational Emma McNairy. The soprano traced the title character's descent from sex kitten to debased streetwalker with shining vocalism and pliant physicality -- her Lulu is a blank canvas on which men project their fantasies.

Jaime Robles, Repeat Performances, 8/7/15

Lulu – and what a part is Lulu! – was sung by Emma McNairy, who provided her character not only with convincing physical beauty, revealed in moments of full-frontal nudity, among others, but with an eyebrow-lifting, eye-popping ability to sing terrifyingly high notes strung out in musical phrases that retained a melodic line.

Director Elkhanah Pulitzer took full advantage of McNairy’s talents, providing opportunities for the soprano’s balletic and acrobatic skills.



Cindy Warner, San Francisco Opera Examiner, 8/15/15

Only rising superstar soprano Emma McNairy could be this Lulu because of her stunning beauty and power, exactly what the femme fatale title role demands. The resulting masterpiece by West Edge Opera should define a new style of the art form and a new heroine. 



Lisa Hirsch, The Iron Tongue of Midnight, Classical Music Blog, 7/25/15

The beautiful and charismatic Emma McNairy stars as Lulu herself, and sings and acts the hell out of an exceptionally long and difficult role. She sounds and looks great throughout, with the range, volume, and expressiveness a soprano needs for Lulu.

Paul Hertelendy, artssf.com, 8/13/15

The star of the night was coloratura Emma McNairy in the title role, willing to do anything to activate her role, even if it took appearing in the altogether more than once. Her stunning svelte figure was idea for the role, and her voice was appealing and electric, seemingly with no upper bound. 



Charles Shere, The Eastside View, Blog 

The opera centers of course on its title role, and I can’t imagine a better Lulu than Emma McNairy, who sings and acts with utter conviction and fabulous technique.



"Lulu on the Edge", by Mark Rudio, A Beast in a Jungle: San Francisco Performing Arts, Culture, Calendar & Reviews, 8/8/15

I bring up Petersen (and her age) because Emma McNairy, the key to West Edge Opera‘s stunningly successful production of Berg’s opera, is making her debut in the role at the age of 27. If Petersen’s Lulu is dangerous because of what she knows, McNairy’s Lulu is lethal because of what she possesses, or at least exudes on stage: a raw sexuality, not fully formed, untamed and still wild (sure, let’s talk about projected male desire). Only once, maybe twice, in twenty years of attending operas have I seen a singer so perfectly matched to a role. McNairy’s alluring soprano had no problem tackling the intricacies of Berg’s thorny score, or filling the cavernous Oakland Train Station where the production took place. If she can make the same impact in larger halls with full orchestra (West Edge used a reduced orchestra), the role could be hers for decades.  


Displaying an acrobatic and physical agility rarely seen in opera singers, McNairy’s physical and vocal presence owns the stage long before she rises from an onstage bath and stands nude before the audience, toweling herself off in a meta display of Lulu’s power, and her own.

James Roy MacBean, Berkeley Daily Planet, 7/26/15

I have seen some great Lulus in my day – Anja Silja in San Francisco in 1971, the brilliant Teresa Stratas at the Met in 1981, and Ann Panagulias in San Francisco in 1989 – but I must credit local soprano Emma McNairy for her own striking interpretation of the role of Lulu in the current West Edge Opera production. As Jonathan Khuner says, Lulu is all about sex! Well, Emma McNairy as Lulu fairly exudes sex from every pore of her body, and she reveals all in several nude scenes. And, oh yes, Emma McNairy sings brilliantly in this terribly difficult, often strident vocal material. Berg wrote this opera in his twelve-tone style, and most of Lulu’s singing is quite dissonant, full of violent leaps and jagged edges. 

As a closing remark, I must mention the outstanding staging of this opera by director Elkhanah Pulitzer and the brilliant conducting by Jonathan Khuner. Together with this excellent cast headed by the stunning Emma McNairy, they made Berg’s Lulu come vibrantly alive.



Mark Rudio, A Beast in a Jungle: San Francisco Performing Arts, Culture Calendar & Reviews, 7/26/15

Emma McNairy holds nothing back in a sexually charged, unforgettable turn in the title role, and under Elkhanah Pulitzer’s strong direction, this production look like a Max Beckmann painting come to life. Everything about it works.



Joshua Kosman, The San Francisco Chronicle, 12/23/15 - Top 10 Operatic Events of 2015

Even by the high standards of the West Edge Opera, this bold and inventive production of Berg’s Expressionist masterpiece, with soprano Emma McNairy’s dazzling star turn in the title role, was a triumph.



Kinderkuchen for the FBI: Entertainment Weekly for Opera, 7/27/15

Emma McNairy is a brave and talented young woman.