January 13, 2014

San Francisco Opera: 'Back to Full Strength'

By Janos Gereben

Les Troyens in the Royal Opera House Photo by Bill Cooper"Not quite post-recession," but close to it, David Gockley says the San Francisco Opera is "getting back to full strength, moving aggressively forward."

The company's 2014-2015 season, announced today by the S.F. Opera general director, reflects his assertion. With seven operas in the fall and three in the following summer, the season features a world premiere, three new productions, and a company premiere — featuring important conductors, a bevy of world renowned singers, and members of the Adler Program.

The current operating budget of $73 million is expected in rise to about $76 million for the next season. 

Still bouncing back from difficult days that began with the 2009 Recession, Gockley is programming this season bravely and ambitiously, saying that "the best way to get support and attention is to move forward." After four decades of heading major opera companies — in Houston and here — Gockley will retire in July of 2016.

Partenope in the English National Opera Photo by Catherine AshmoreHis mark will be left on the company even beyond then, with Board of Directors authorization (more likely, at their request) to program two more seasons after retiring. In the world of opera where contracts are signed years ahead, Gockley's successor will not have to face a blank slate. Chances are the successor is already selected or, at least, on a very short list, but the identity is unknown, likely to remain so for a while.

This is Gockley's plan for the 2014-2015 season:

2014:
Norma (Bellini) - Sept. 5-30 (new production)
Susannah (Floyd) - Sept. 6-21 (company premiere)
A Masked Ball (Verdi) - Oct. 4-22
Partenope (Handel) - Oct. 15-Nov. 2 (company premiere)
Tosca (Puccini) - Oct. 23-Nov. 8
Cinderella (Rossini) - Nov. 9-26
La bohéme (Puccini) - Nov. 14-Dec. 2 (new production)

2015:
The Trojans (Berlioz) - June 7-July 1 (new production)
Two Women (Tutino) - June 13-30 (world premiere)
The Marriage of Figaro (Mozart) - June 14-July 5

Due to popular demand (by most patrons), evening performances will start at 7:30 p.m., except for the extra-long Les Troyens, with a 6 p.m. curtain, and for its only matinee, which is the premiere, at 1 p.m.

Sondra Radvanovsky as Norma at the Metropolitan Opera Photo by _Marty SohlGockley is especially proud of casting Norma, one of his favorite operas, with Sondra Radvanovsky — "the Norma today" — in the title role in a new co-production (with Canadian Opera Company, Gran Teatre del Liceu, Lyric Opera of Chicago).

True, Gockley admits, Radvanovsky made the role debut with the Met, but this is her first new production.

Former Adler Fellow Daveda Karanas sings Adalgisa, Marco Berti is Pollione, and Christian Van Horn the Orovesto. Nicola Luisotti conducts (among only three operas this season because, Gockley says, "these are the ones he wanted to do"), and Kevin Newbury is the director.

Susannah, from 1955, perhaps the most performed American opera by professional companies after Porgy and Bess, will have its premiere on a San Francisco Opera subscription season. It was performed in the War Memorial in the Spring Opera series in 1964, with Lee Venora and Norman Treigle.

The 2014 production features Patricia Racette and Raymond Aceto, Catherine Cook, and Brandon Jovanovich. Karen Kamensek makes her San Francisco debut as conductor; Michael Cavanagh directs.

Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball) is a revival, with an illustrious cast: Ramon Vargas, Krassimira Stoyanova (company debut), Thomas Hampson, Heidi Stober, and Dolora Zajick. (There will be cast changes at some performances.) Luisotti conducts, Jose Maria Condemi directs.

Partenope, Handel's 1730 (semi)comic opera about romantic entanglements, will have its company debut in a recent Christopher Alden-Andrew Lieberman production imported from the English National Opera.

Set in 1920s Paris, the production’s surreal aesthetic was inspired by the artwork of Dadaist Man Ray. Daniella de Niese sings the title role, the cast includes David Daniels, Anthony Roth Costanzo, and two S.F. Opera alumni, Daniela Mack and Alek Shrader. The conductor of the London production, Christian Curnyn, makes his War Memorial debut.

Bright Sheng is commissioned to write <em>Dream of the Red Chamber</em>, planned for 2016 The Thierry Bosquet production of Tosca is revived once again. Lianna Haroutounian makes her San Francisco debut in the title role, Adler alumnus Brian Jagde sings Cavaradossi, S.F. Opera Center product (and great Wotan) Mark Delavan is Scarpia. Riccardo Frizza conducts, Condemi directs.

La Cenerentola (Cinderella) returns in the classic Jean Pierre Ponnelle production, with Karine Deshayes in the title role. She and American tenor René Barbera in the role of Don Ramiro both are making San Francisco debuts. Fabio Capitanucci sings the prince's valet. Jesús López-Cobos conducts, Gregory Fortner directs.

A new production of La bohème by David Farley is doublecast adventurously: Mimi is divided between Sonya Yoncheva (making her San Francisco debut in this summer's Traviata) and Adlerite Leah Crocetto; Michael Fabiano and Giorgio Berrugi share the role of Rodolfo.

Others in the first cast are Nadine Sierra (Musetta) and Alexey Markov (Marcello); and in the other, Ellie Dehn and Brian Mulligan. Appearing in all performances: Christian Van Horn (Colline) and Adler Fellow Philippe Sly (Schaunard). Giuseppe Finzi conducts, John Caird directs.

Anna Caterina Antonacci will sing the "Sophia Loren role" in <em>Two Women</em> Photo by Cory WeaverSan Francisco has been waiting for Les Troyens (The Trojans) since it was promised a decade ago by former general manager Pamela Rosenberg. Financial problems have prevented both her and Gockley to bring the big, expensive, difficult-to-cast work presented by the Royal Opera in a co-production with San Francisco, the Vienna State Opera, and Teatro Alla Scala in Milan.

Former San Franciso Opera Music Director Donald Runnicles returns to conduct the much talked about David McVicar production. In the cast: Anna Caterina Antonacci, Susan Graham, Bryan Hymel, Sasha Cooke, opposing armies, and the Trojan Horse.

La Ciociara (The Woman from Ciociara, but using the title of "Two Women") is a commissioned world premiere, Gockley's 40th such project (in Houston and San Francisco). It is composed by Marco Tutino, with a libretto by Tutino and Fabio Ceresa, the story based on Alberto Moravia's novel of the same name — the 1958 work adapted two years later for Vittorio De Sica's film, produced by Carlo Ponti, and starring Sophia Loren, Jean-Paul Belmondo, and Raf Vallone.

Anna Caterina Antonacci stars in the world premiere production, along with Sarah Shafer, Stephen Costello, and Mark Delavan. Luisotti conducts, the director is Francesca Zambello, on Peter Davison's sets from co-producer Teatro Regio in Turin.

Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) closes the season, with Philippe Sly, Lisette Oropesa, Nadine Sierra. returns as the Countess Almaviva and Luca Pisaroni. Patrick Summers conducts, Robin Guarino directs the John Copley production.

The other commissioned premiere announced at this time is for Fall 2016, Dream of the Red Chamber, by Bright Sheng to his own libretto, co-written by David Henry Hwang. The work is based on the book Dream of the Red Chamber by 18th-century Qing Dynasty writer Cao Xuequin, and is considered one of the four great classical novels of historic Chinese literature.

Red Chamber is thought to be semi-autobiographical, mirroring the rise and decay of author Cao Xueqin's own family and, by extension, of the Qing Dynasty. It is a memorial to the women he knew in his youth: friends, relatives, and servants. The novel is remarkable not only for its huge cast of characters and psychological scope, but also for its precise and detailed observation of the life and social structures typical of 18th-century Chinese aristocracy.

This San Francisco Opera commission was initiated and funded by the Chinese Heritage Foundation Friends of Minnesota. Casting and creative team artists will be announced at a future date.

Inevitably, some expectations will have to be nixed. Of long-rumored operas to come next season, these apparently bit the dust, at least for now: Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, which may yet come next fall (and how about the unrumored but logical A Little Night Music with Flicka and Thomas Allen, which was such a hit in Houston when Gockley ran the company there), Gordon Getty's Usher House, anything Janáček, and so on...

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at janosg@gmail.com.

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