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Initial thoughts about San Francisco Opera’s 2014–15 season

Set design for the San Francisco Opera premiere of Carlisle Floyd's best-known opera
Set design for the San Francisco Opera premiere of Carlisle Floyd's best-known opera
by Erhard Rom, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera

Yesterday San Francisco Opera (SFO) General Director David Gockley and Music Director Nicola Luisotti announced the repertory, guest artists, conductors, and creative teams of the 2014–15 season. For those of us who subscribe, this means that the annual renewal package will be appearing in the mailbox in a matter of days. (As I write this, mine has already arrived.) For those simply interested the news, I found that, in the sources that I follow, Janos Gereben was first out of the gate with an article for San Francisco Classical Voice that I would call an exemplary blend of fact and opinion.

This gives me the liberty to take a more limited “impressions and opinions” stance towards the new season. For that perspective I would like to approach the plans in terms of novelty, following a classification that was provided in the press material. At the summary level, the season will offer one world premiere, two company premieres, an additional new production, two productions new to the Bay Area, and four revivals.

The world premiere will be La Ciociara (the woman from Ciociara) by the Italian composer Marco Tutino. This will be an operatic treatment of a novel written by by Alberto Moravia in 1958 of the same name, but that novel is better known for having been made into Vittorio De Sica’s 1960 film, released in the United States as Two Women. Luca Rossi’s script for this film provided the starting point for the libretto, which Tutino prepared in collaboration with Fabio Ceresa. Moravia’s unrelenting account of the horrors of Fascist Italy under the Allied bombing campaign of the Second World War is definitely the stuff of verisimo opera; and it will be interesting to see how director Francesca Zambello will reframe De Sica’s cinematic treatment, particular in the context of her past realization of the exploits of Vietnam veteran Rick Rescorla in her highly perceptive staging of Heart of a Soldier for SFO in the fall of 2011. La Ciociara will receive its world premiere on June 15, 2015.

The first company premiere will be the second production of the season, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah. This opera was composed in 1955 and was chosen to represent American music and culture at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels. Nevertheless, it was not performed at the Metropolitan Opera until 1999, by which time many, if not most, of us had seen it in another production (New York City Opera, in my case, as well as a student production at Indiana University). The libretto, also by Floyd, is basically a retelling of Susannah and the Elders, one of the books of the Apocrypha, set in a small Tennessee mountain town. The title role will be sung by Patricia Racette, whom I had the privilege of seeing coach a soprano student in “Ain’t it a pretty night,” whose opening leap of a ninth makes it the tour de force aria of the first act. The production will be directed by Michael Cavanagh, whose staging of John Adams’ Nixon in China was one of the most memorable SFO productions of the 2011–12 season.

The other company premiere will be George Frideric Handel’s Partenope in a staging by Christopher Alden given its world premiere by the English National Opera. That production, set in 1920s Paris, received the 2009 Olivier Award. The SFO production will mark return performances by soprano Danielle de Niese and countertenor David Daniels. The conductor will be Christian Curnyn, who had previously conducted the world premiere.

Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma will return in a new production. This will be the opening opera of the season; and the title role will be sung by Sondra Radvanovsky, who had made her San Francisco debut in the SFO production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il Trovatore (the troubadour), which had opened the 2009–10 season. This Norma is being shared with the Canadian Opera Company, Barcelona’s Gran Teatro del Liceu, and the Lyric Opera of Chicago; and the staging will be by Kevin Newbury.

Of the productions new to the Bay Area, the one most long-awaited will be the return of a full staging of Hector Berlioz’ Les Troyens (the Trojans). Berlioz worked on this five-act undertaking between 1856 and 1858 and did not live to see it performed in its entirety. The opera was conceived as an interpretation of Virgil’s Aeneid and deals with two critical sections from Virgil’s narrative, the fall of the city of Troy to the Greeks, who had laid siege to the city for ten years, and the refuge taken by the surviving Trojan soldiers, led by Aeneas, in the city of Carthage ruled by Queen Dido. Former SFO Music Director Donald Runnicles will return to conduct this revival, which will be staged by David McVicar. For those wondering about this opera’s epic scale, the performance is expected to last five and one-half hours.

SFO will also offer a new production of Giacomo Puccini’s La bohème (the bohemian life) to conclude the fall portion of its 2014–15 season. This performance will be staged by John Caird, who will be making his SFO debut. The staging was given its world premiere by the Canadian Opera Company. Resident Conductor Giuseppe Finzi will take the podium for these performances.

That leaves four operas whose past SFO productions will be revived:

  1. Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera (a masked ball), whose staging by Jose Maria Condemi was particularly attuned to the political implications of the narrative
  2. Thierry Bosquet’s staging of Puccini’s Tosca, which remains one of the SFO standards for opera on a grand scale
  3. Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Cinderella), staged by Gregory Portner
  4. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro interpreted through the particularly witty staging conceived by John Copley

More specific information about each of these productions will be forthcoming, as well as information about the purchase of both subscriptions and single tickets, which will be available after subscribers have had the usual “decent interval” to consider their renewal plans.

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