Francesca Zambello is in town again, multitasking as usual. The artistic director of Washington National Opera (and of the Glimmerglass Festival) has directed opera for many of the the world's major companies. She was associated with S.F. Opera General Director David Gockley during Gockley's years of heading the Houston Grand Opera, and when Gockley took over the administration here in 2006, Zambello served as S.F. Opera artistic adviser through 2011.
Between 1983 and her Two Women this year, Zambello was constantly busy at the War Memorial in various capacities — ranging from stage director to working the Supertitles — in some 70 S.F. Opera productions, her work culminating in the 2011 Wagner Ring.
Right now, the globetrotting artist is here to direct S.F. Opera's Sept. 11 season-opening Luisa Miller by Verdi, and to speak at the Sept. 10 meeting of the Wagner Society of Northern California.
Zambello says of the subject of the Wagner Society event, her production of the Ring here and in Washington:
Directing the Ring in San Francisco was a dream come true. This city and theater gave all of us the chance to create something new and fresh while respecting the past traditions. As many who saw it know the interpretation focused on America’s past blended with strong storytelling and character development with a superb cast and conductor.
The production was always in collaboration with the Washington National Opera and now it will be mounted at the Kennedy Center in May, 2016. I am thrilled to revisit this work and continue to evolve it. Wagner was never stagnant and we must not be as well. The production gives us the world, but it will be inhabited by a thrilling group of artists, some new to their roles, some previously in the incarnation under the baton of our music director, Phillipe Auguin.
The conductor in the War Memorial was former S.F. Opera Music Director Donald Runnicles. A previous attempt to produce the cycle in Washington ran out of funding after three operas were presented fully staged, so Götterdämmerung received only a concert performance. Next year's production will be of the full cycle in the usual one-week-long festival setting.
S.F. Opera's 2015-2016 season-opener is a return to an old friend for Zambello:
What a joy to revisit Luisa Miller after 15 years. Since it premiered here in SFO, it has traveled to Madrid and Dallas. We are blessed to have a true Verdian cast this time around with Leah Crocetto, Michael Fabiano and Vitali Bilyy, with [conductor] Nicola Lusiotti flourishing in his element.
Cast members are fine Italianate stylists, but also credible actors so it is wonderful to delve into the dark terrain of Schiller. The frightening tale of class and love in his Kaballe und Liebe remains, but not much of his powerful poetry. The poetry is simplified in Verdi's libretto, but when you get to the last act, it is Schiller all the way.