San Francisco Opera’s 91st season opens on September 6, with a performance of Arrigo Boito’s Mephistopheles, described as “one of the most impressive productions ever seen at the War Memorial Opera House".
The opening night celebrations include Opera Ball 2013: The Garden of Good and Evil, created by celebrity event designer Colin Cowie, and BRAVO! CLUB’s Opening Night Gala. Rounding off the weekend's festivities is one of the Bay Area’s most popular musical events, San Francisco Chronicle Presents Opera in the Park - San Francisco Opera’s annual free concert in Golden Gate Park - on Sunday, September 8.
Heading the cast of Mephistopheles are Mexican tenor Rámon Vargas as the philosopher Faust, who sells his soul to the devil, soprano Patricia Racette as Margherita, the object of his desire, and bass-baritone Ildar Abdrazakov in the “wonderfully evil” title role. San Francisco Opera’s Music Director, Nicola Luisotti, conducts the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus in a production which is sung in Italian with English supertitles.
Mephistopheles was written in 1867 by Arrigo Boito, who was best known as a librettist, having written the texts for Verdi’s Otello and Falstaff. Based on Goethe’s version of the Faust legend, Mephistopheles was the only opera which Boito completed, the premiere having taken place on March 5, 1868, at La Scala Milan. Boito himself led the performance, despite his lack of ability as a conductor, and the audience was decidedly unimpressed by his style. The opera was also far too long, and the cast was unable to handle the complexities of the music, so the production - described as a total fiasco - closed after its second performance.
Undeterred, Boito set about revising his opera, reducing the length considerably and scaling down many of the scenes. This version - more traditional in style, and performed by what was considered to be a fine cast - was premiered in Bologna on October 4, 1875, to great success. Further minor revisions were made during 1876, and this third version opened in Venice on May 13, 1876.
Russian bass, Ildar Abdrazakov, was only 25 when he made his La Scala debut in 2001, and has since appeared at many of the leading opera houses of the world, including the Metropolitan Opera, the Royal Opera Covent Garden and the Vienna State Opera. The Independent described this two-time Grammy Award-winner as a “sensational bass…who has just about everything – imposing sound, beautiful legato, oodles of finesse”. He has performed as a concert artist at London’s BBC Proms and at Carnegie Hall, as well as with leading international orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony and Vienna Philharmonic.
This season marks Patricia Racette’s 24th anniversary with San Francisco Opera, a season in which she also appears in the title roles of Dolores Claiborne and Madama Butterfly, and in which she makes her debut as Julie La Verne in the Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein musical, Show Boat. A participant in the Adler Fellowship and Merola Opera Program, Ms Racette has sung 28 roles with the Company, her most recent appearances having been in the title role of Tosca, the three heroines of Puccini’s Il Trittico, and Marguerite in Faust. Patricia Racette's previous appearance as Margherita in Mephistopheles was in 1994.
Tenor Ramón Vargas last appeared in San Francisco in the title role of Massenet’s Werther, a role he has also sung at the Vienna State Opera, Madrid’s Teatro Real, in Monte Carlo and in Mexico City. His debut performance with San Francisco Opera was in 1999 when he appeared as Riccardo in Un Ballo in Maschera, following later in the season as Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor. In 2008 he appeared as Nemorino in L’Elisir d’Amore. Mr Vargas has performed in most of the world’s major opera houses - La Scala, the Vienna State Opera, the Royal Opera Covent Garden, Paris Opera and the Metropolitan Opera - in a range of leading roles including Alfredo in La Traviata, Edgardo and the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto, in the title roles in Don Carlos, Faust and Idomeneo, as Lensky in Eugene Onegin, Roméo in Roméo et Juliette, Rodolfo in La Bohème, Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni, and Count Almaviva in Il Barbiere di Siviglia.
Mephistopheles runs for eight performances at the War Memorial Opera House, Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco. The Opera Ball 2013 is sold out, but tickets for the opening night performance - and all subsequent performances - can be obtained via the San Francisco Opera website.
For more information on the BRAVO! CLUB's Opening Night Gala, please visit the Club's homepage
For further details on Opera in the Park, please visit sfopera.com/park