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San Francisco Opera opens Summer Season with 'Show Boat'

The 'Cotton Blossom' docks at Natchez
The 'Cotton Blossom' docks at Natchez
Robert Kusel - Lyric Opera of Chicago

San Francisco Opera opens its Summer Season on June 1 with Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s musical masterpiece Show Boat.

Produced by David Gockley, General Director of SF Opera, and staged by internationally acclaimed opera and theater director, Francesca Zambello, Show Boat - with its stunning dance sequences, sumptuous costumes and colorful sets - is set to thrill Bay Area audiences.

This we know, for although this is the first time that San Francisco Opera has performed Show Boat, both Gockley and Zambello have scooped rave reviews for previous productions.

David Gockley’s production premiered with Houston Grand Opera in 1982, and in 1989, he staged a revival for the Houston Company - described by the Houston Chronicle as “a towering work, [with] magnificence in its music, its narrative sweep, its deep awareness of something bigger than ourselves”. He then took it to Cairo to inaugurate the newly-constructed Cairo National Culture Centre.

Francesca Zambello directed Show Boat for the Lyric Opera of Chicago (“a triumph” - according to the Chicago Classical Review), and for Washington National Opera (“Show Boat is sensational” said The Huffington Post). Ms Zambello also directed the production at London's Royal Albert Hall, the first fully staged musical production in the history of that venue. (Neil Dowden - Music OMH)

Following the lives of those on board the Mississippi riverboat, Cotton Blossom, Show Boat tells a story of passion, love and tragedy, and the thorny issue of racial prejudice is only one of the social changes of the time which it tackles. At its first Broadway performance in December 1927, Show Boat marked an important milestone in the history of American theater for another reason too, representing as it did the confluence of European operetta and American opera, resulting in what would later come to be known as ‘musical theater’.

Based on the novel by Edna Ferber, the San Francisco Opera production includes substantial sections of the score and dialogue from the original 1927 production, as well as those enduringly popular numbers - Ol’ Man River, Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man, Make Believe and Why Do I Love You.

The cast includes performers from opera, Broadway, theater, dance, television and film. Soprano Heidi Stober debuts as Magnolia Hawks, and Cap’n Andy is played by actor and vaudeville performer, Bill Irwin. Michael Todd Simpson - in his Company debut - is Gaylord Ravenal, whom he played at Washington National Opera to great success. Television actress, Harriet Harris, is Parthy Ann Hawks, and soprano Patricia Racette appears for the first time as Julie LaVerne. Joe and Queenie are played by Morris Robinson and Angela Renée Simpson - both of whom triumphed in these roles in the Washington and Chicago productions. Ms Simpson also played Queenie in Francesca Zambello's Royal Albert Hall production.

The San Francisco Opera and Chorus are led by Maestro John DeMain - who also teamed up with David Gockley for the 1982 Houston Grand Opera production, and who was instrumental in recreating much of Jerome Kern’s original score.

San Francisco Opera’s production of Show Boat - which will be recorded in high-definition for future release on DVD and Blu-ray - runs in repertory with Verdi’s La Traviata (June 11–July 13) and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (June 15–July 9). All performances take place at the War Memorial Opera House. For further information and tickets visit

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