A scene from OSJ’s 2014 production of Rigoletto | Credit: Bob Shomler

“Life doesn’t even get good till you turn 40!” joked Shawna Lucey, Opera San José’s general director. She was talking about the company’s recently announced 2023–2024 season, the organization’s 40th. But the mission of OSJ, founded by Irene Dalis to nurture young professionals by giving them a chance to sing major roles for the first time, means that age is just a number for the company.

The forthcoming season intentionally mixes the new and the old, past and present, emerging artists and experienced hands. “We wanted to really celebrate our past, our present, and our future,” said Lucey. “And we were looking at that in every facet of the season.”

The schedule kicks off in September at the California Theatre with a new production of Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette directed by Lucey herself. In keeping with a belief shared with Khori Dastoor, OSJ’s previous chief (now at Houston Grand Opera), the company is continuing its partnerships with local arts organizations in different genres and that represent different parts of San José’s multiethnic makeup. Although details are not yet set, Lucey did reveal that Antara Bhardwaj, the choreographer of the company’s hit production of The Marriage of Figaro (which, according to Lucey, broke OSJ box office records for its first weekend and sold ahead of expectations through its entire run), would also be on board to choreograph Roméo.

Steven Kemp’s set renderings for OSJ’s new production of Roméo et Juliette | Credit: Steven Kemp

Even more exciting is the local premiere of Daniel Catán’s magical realism-influenced Florencia en el Amazonas, which closes the season in April and May 2024. Crystal Manich (last year’s West Side Story director) is in charge of the production. Lucey shared that Manich is “so clear in her directorial voice, and she knows Catán’s work, having directed Il Postino before. She has long wanted to tackle Florencia, and we are so thrilled to produce the Bay Area premiere of this important Spanish-language opera. In one of my earliest conversations with [Music Director Joseph] Marcheso, it was one of the first things we agreed on when I took this job. I had known Crystal before, and seeing her work on West Side Story, I knew she was the right director for this transformative piece.

“We like to offer things that are new and exciting for our patrons who have been with us for so long,” Lucey continued. “We’re also excited to bring all of San José’s communities into the opera house, and I think this is a title that will resonate with the opera aficionado who’s a Puccini freak as well as people who love Gabriel García Márquez’s novels — or with native Spanish-language speakers. This is a title to seduce all those people into the opera house.”

Rounding out the season are revivals of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville in November and Verdi’s Rigoletto in February and March 2024.

Soprano Melissa Sondhi | CreditValentina Sadiul

Unlike some other companies that shelved their digital projects after the pandemic shutdown lifted, OSJ is continuing to produce opera in its Fred Heiman Digital Studio. The 2023–2024 season will feature a workshopped production of Zheng, a new opera about locally beloved mezzo-soprano Zheng Cao, with music by Shinji Eshima and libretto by Tony Asaro. Eshima has had premieres at both San Francisco Ballet and the SF Symphony, and the rest of the production team also has ties to the Bay Area.

“We had some conversations about where [the opera] could live and where it was in its incubation,” Lucey explained, “and thinking about our community, we wanted to leverage the Heiman Digital Studio to tell a local story and give these local artists a chance to take the next step with this endeavor. It makes it possible for other opera companies to hear it and experience it more easily than asking people to travel [here].”

Of course, the resident artists are mission critical, and the 2023–2024 roster includes soprano Melissa Sondhi, mezzo-soprano Melisa Bonetti, tenor Joshua Sanders, and bass-baritone Vartan GabrielianOf Sondhi, Lucey reports, “She’s a really fabulous talent. She has been a chorister, then she was Barbarina in Figaro this past fall. And her voice just kept growing and growing, and it’s time for her to take on some lead roles.” And Lucey has similar things to say about the others.

 But in keeping with the season’s theme, “we also want to bring back into the family some of our absolute loves, like Efraín Solís, who is one of ours, like Eugene Brancoveanu, who’s like our ‘resident artist emeritus.’ When these folks want to try out a new role, when they take on something big, we’re the place where they’re doing it because our patrons really love having that relationship with the resident artists.” Also in the coming year’s cast lists are perennial stalwarts and recent SF Opera Medal winners Dale Travis and Philip Skinner.

The mainstage shows (casting incomplete at publication time):

Roméo et Juliette (Charles Gounod), Sept. 9–24, California Theatre
Director: Shawna Lucey, Conductor: Joseph Marcheso
Roméo: Joshua Sanders, Juliette: Melissa Sondhi, Frère Laurent: Vartan Gabrielian, Mercutio: Jesús Vicente Murillo, Tybalt: Alex Boyer, Duke: Kenneth Kellogg

Il barbiere di Siviglia (Gioachino Rossini), Nov. 11–26, California Theatre 
Director: TBD, Conductor: Joseph Marcheso
Rosina: TBD, Almaviva: Joshua Sanders, Dr. Bartolo: Dale Travis, Basilio: Vartan Gabrielian, Berta: Courtney Miller

Rigoletto (Giuseppe Verdi), Feb. 17 – March 3, 2024, California Theatre
Director: Dan Wallace Miller, Conductor: TBD
Rigoletto: Eugene Brancoveanu, Gilda: Melissa Sondhi, Duke of Mantua: Joshua Sanders, Sparafucile: Vartan Gabrielian, Maddalena: Melisa Bonetti, Monterone: Philip Skinner

Florencia en el Amazonas (Daniel Catán), April 20 – May 5, 2024, California Theatre
Director: Crystal Manich, Conductor: Joseph Marcheso
Florencia Grimaldi: Marlen Nahhas, Rosalba: Melissa Sondhi, Paula: Guadalupe Paz, Alvaro: Efraín Solís

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