SF Opera Music Director Eun Sun Kim was set to conduct opening night in 2020, may yet do it this fall | Credit: Marc Olivier Le Blanc

June is about to bust out all over, with renewal and retreat; concert halls opening and closing; the enormous tragedy in India, with the COVID-19 variant from there spreading around the world; CDC confusion about masks in the U.S.; formerly virus-free Taiwan being shut down by the pandemic; the prospect of the Olympics in Japan being canceled the last minute; European opera houses opening and closing, and so on. Hard times, with uncertainty the only constant.

Just yesterday, one of the world’s most pandemic-defiant countries, Finland — where Esa-Pekka Salonen led a live performance of Covid fan tutte last August — surprised artists and audiences by calling off the entire Savonlinna Opera festival, even against low COVID-19 rates in the country, and the festival’s mostly outdoor location. Germany’s 80 opera houses open and close with disturbing regularity.

San Francisco’s March 2020 pandemic closure of performance facilities is over for now, Davies Hall, the War Memorial, Herbst Theater, and others can be used with restrictions. Still, SF Opera is silent on its plans: The best information we could get was “SF Opera will be making a determination and announcement in the coming weeks about the fall season.” Of the two major tenants of the Opera House, SF Ballet has already announced its plans.

Awkward both as a name in full and as an acronym, the historic San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center (SFWMPAC) is in charge of the War Memorial Opera House, Davies Symphony Hall, Herbst Theater, and other facilities in the Veterans Building. Its managing director, John Caldon, told SF Classical Voice:

“All venues in the City are under the same guidelines, which means that any venue, including the Opera House, is already permitted to operate in the same manner the Symphony is operating at Davies Symphony Hall, with an approved safety plan, of course.”

Caldon and SFWMPAC have also managed to complete the huge six-year task of replacing the War Memorial’s 3,124 ancient chairs during the pandemic.

If and when live opera returns to the War Memorial, new seats will welcome the audience | Credit: Brandon Patoc

For Herbst’s reopening, SFCV has learned, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale will do the honors on June 11. Executive Director Courtney Beck says only 223 will be seated in the 916-seat hall, reflecting the city’s previous 25 percent audience allowance. (At the moment, the allowance is 50 percent.)

Actually, the orchestra will also perform on June 10, but by invitation only to those, says Beck, “who joined our Balance Forward program — folks who allowed us to keep their subscription money and roll into the next year. June 11 is open to the public for ticket purchase.”

Music Director Richard Egarr is unlikely to conduct the concerts as originally scheduled. He lives in Amsterdam, and as Holland is far behind with vaccinations, he just had his first shot two weeks ago. Augusta McKay Lodge will lead the orchestra if Egarr can’t make it. Says Beck, “The League of American Orchestras is working tirelessly to help orchestras deal with this mess.”

Augusta McKay Lodge
Augusta McKay Lodge will lead the Philharmonia Baroque when the orchestra reopens Herbst Theater

The program on both days: Handel’s Concerto Grosso Op 6, No 7 in B-flat Major and the Chaconne from Terpsichore; Vivaldi’s Concerto for Strings in G Minor, RV 157, Sinfonia al Santo Sepolcro, RV 169, Concerto for Two Violins and Cello in D Minor; Telemann’s “La Bizarre” Orchestral Suite; and Giuseppe Valentini’s Concerto Grosso in A Minor, Op. 7 No. 1.          

Besides the news of opera companies’ reopening elsewhere, let’s speculate on what SF Opera will rescue from the planned/canceled 2020 Summer and Fall Seasons.

The Summer Season, canceled as late as mid-April had planned for Verdi’s Ernani, June 7 – July 2; Handel’s Partenope, June 12–27; and the Bay Area premiere of Mason Bates’s The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, June 20 – July 3.

The Fall Season, planned painfully and with restraint in the middle of the pandemic, was canceled in June. On its schedule:

  • Opening Night Celebration Concert, Sept. 11: Eun Sun Kim, conductor; with soprano Albina Shagimuratova and tenor Pene Pati

  • Fidelio, Sept. 12 – Oct. 1: Eun Sun Kim, conductor; with Elza van den Heever, Simon O’Neill, Falk Struckmann, Eric Owens, Alfred Walker

  • Rigoletto, Sept. 13 – Oct. 4: Sir Mark Elder, conductor; with George Gagnidze, Nina Minasyan, Pene Pati, Zanda Švede

  • Così fan tutte, Oct. 6–28: Speranza Scappucci, conductor; with Jennifer Davis, Irene Roberts, Frédéric Antoun, John Chest, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Hera Hyesang Park

  • Opera in the Park with soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, Oct. 18

  • The Handmaid’s Tale, West Coast Premiere, Oct. 29 – Nov. 22: Thomas Søndergård, conductor; with Sasha Cooke, Michaela Martens, Sarah Cambidge, James Creswell, Abigail Levis, Katrina Galka, Rhoslyn Jones, Nicole Birkland, Sara Couden

  • La bohème, Nov. 15 – Dec. 6: Nicola Luisotti, conductor; with Maria Agresta/Aurelia Florian (double-cast), Michael Fabiano/Arturo Chacón-Cruz, Amina Edris/Janai Brugger, Artur Rucinski/Anthony Clark Evans, Soloman Howard, Dale Travis

Chances are if there is a Fall 2021 Season, it will include Fidelio, with Eun Sun Kim’s long-delayed debut as music director; the SF Opera co-commission of Steve Jobs; Alexander von Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg (1922) novelty” with its small cast; and La bohème and/or Rigoletto because ... you know.

Fidelio set design by Alexander V. Nichols

“It is heartbreaking to have to make this announcement,” said SF Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock at the time of announcing the cancellation of all performances in 2020. “It will mean a full year without opera on the War Memorial stage, and the loss of projects that would have connected powerfully with our world today.

“As painful as this moment is, we remain a company of extraordinarily creative artists, artisans, and technicians, dedicated to doing everything we can to bring opera to life in other contexts, whether digitally or live, in other venues, as government mandates and critical issues of safety allow.”

“The creative urge to share our art with audiences has never been stronger. I am so grateful to every member of the Opera family for their resilience and belief. We will keep the music alive.”

Elsewhere, with the same challenges and determination, live opera is coming back:

Santa Fe Opera, a company with a famous open-air theater, is making great efforts to have a summer season. Merola/Adler alumnus David Lomelí is the company’s new Chief Artistic Officer. At the moment, ticket sales are on hold: “We are currently reevaluating our seating plans. Ticket sales remain on pause. Please check back later for updates.”

But if all goes well, July and August will have Laurent Pelly’s new production of The Marriage of Figaro, the world premiere of John Corigliano and Mark Adamo’s The Lord of Cries, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, and Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Du Yun
Du Yun is composer of In Our Daughter’s Eyes, presented by LA Opera next year | Credit: Zhen Qin

Los Angeles Opera opens its summer season with a free concert performance of Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex on June 6, conducted by James Conlon. There will be two seating sections: one for those who are fully vaccinated (receiving the final dose by May 22; proof required) and another for those who are not yet vaccinated or prefer to remain socially distanced (proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken 72 hours before the performance required).

Admission is free, but ticketing is extremely limited. Tickets will be released on a rolling basis, available at first to those who were most affected by previous LA Opera cancelations. LA Opera is also inviting healthcare workers and first responders to attend, through the company’s Connects community engagement programs. 

The fall season opens on Sept. 18, Conlon conducting Verdi’s Il trovatore, with Guanqun Yu as Leonora, with Kunde as Manrico, Raehann Bryce-Davis as Azucena, Vladimir Stoyanov as Count di Luna and Morris Robinson as Ferrando.

The 2021/22 season will feature four more mainstage productions (Tannhäuser, Cinderella, St. Matthew Passion and Aida), three concerts (Alcina, The Brightness of Light and a Javier Camarena recital) and two Off Grand events (Get Out in Concert and In Our Daughter’s Eyes), for a total of 41 performances between September 18, 2021, and June 18, 2022.

In Seattle, the opera company states ruefully: “It will take years for Seattle Opera and the arts sector as a whole to recover from the pandemic’s economic impact. Feeling the presence and excitement of live performance again is one way that the healing can begin, said General Director Christina Scheppelmann.”

Live performances are scheduled in the 2021 – 2022 season: La bohème, The Marriage of Figaro, Orpheus and Eurydice, and Jeanine Tesori’s Blue — the 2020 winner of Best New Opera by the Music Critics Association of North America.