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SF Opera Summer Season in the Making

February 4, 2020

February 2, 2020, was not only a super-rare palindromic date and the occasion for a football game of general interest, but also the occasion for Punxsutawney Phil to make his Groundhog Day weather prediction. It’s no shadows, meaning early spring, so it’s time to think what follows that: the San Francisco Opera summer season.

Being without dramma per musica in the War Memorial since December, the region’s multitude of opera fans are eagerly awaiting the season’s three operas between June 7 and July 3.

They are: 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 major change in the previously announced lineup is that SF Opera Music Director Designate Eun Sun Kim will conduct Ernani, replacing James Gaffigan, who withdrew from the production. With several other Verdi productions in her career, this will be Kim’s first time leading Ernani.

Otherwise, there are newly announced additions to the Ernani cast: Adler Fellows Esther Tonea as Giovanna, Christopher Oglesby as Don Riccardo, and Stefan Egerstrom as Jago — Tonea and Egerstrom is their SF Opera debuts.

Verdi’s Ernani is a tale of love and honor in 16th-century Spain that follows a fugitive prince (Ernani) whose love for the noblewoman Elvira is challenged by two powerful rivals, Don Ruy de Silva and the soon-to-be Holy Roman Emperor Don Carlo. The 1844 opera was a big hit in San Francisco during the Gold Rush days.

Tenor Russell Thomas stars in the title role, and soprano Michelle Bradley and Italian baritone Simone Piazzola make their company debuts as Elvira and Don Carlo. Bass-baritone and 2018 Richard Tucker Award winner Christian Van Horn returns to the company in the role of Silva. The production coming to San Francisco from Chicago, designed by Scott Marr, is directed by Jose Maria Condemi.

Handel’s 1730 comedy Partenope returns in the Olivier Award-winning production by Christopher Alden. The staging updates the action from Handel’s ancient Neapolitan setting to a 1920s Parisian salon and carries the genderbending plot to its full realization.

In her American debut, soprano Louise Alder sings the title role. Two internationally acclaimed countertenors, Franco Fagioli and Jakub Józef Orlinski, will also make American staged opera debuts as Arsace and Armindo, respectively. Mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack reprises the role of Rosmira, tenor Alek Shrader returns as Emilio, and baritone Hadleigh Adams is Ormonte.

English conductor and harpsichordist Christopher Moulds, who made his SF Opera debut last summer with Handel’s Orlando, returns to lead Partenope. Roy Rallo directs the revival of Alden’s staging, which features sets designed by Andrew Lieberman, costumes by Jon Morrell, revival lighting design by Gary Marder, and choreography by Lawrence Pech.

The summer season concludes with the Bay Area premiere of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs by composer Mason Bates and librettist Mark Campbell. Called “a winning opera” by the Los Angeles Times at its 2017 world premiere in Santa Fe, this electroacoustic one-act work explores the intersection of technology and humanity in modern life.

Kevin Newbury directs the work, which follows tech mogul Steve Jobs through a series of flashback episodes where the product innovations he champions aid and complicate his relationships. Conductor Michael Christie, who made his debut here leading the 2013 world premiere of Mark Adamo’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, will be on the podium.

At the 2019 Seattle Opera premiere of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, The Seattle Times commented on the “ridiculously gorgeous production design, which uses projection and lighting cues to transform a spare set of white-screened rectangular boxes into all of the locations and moods the story needs.” The set designs are by Victoria Tzykun, lighting is by Japhy Weideman, and projection designs are by London-based 59 Productions, whose credits include Philip Glass’s Satyagraha.

Edward Parks makes his company debut in the title role, along with three other creators of principal roles: mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke is Laurene Powell Jobs, tenor Garrett Sorenson portrays Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, and bass Wei Wu sings Kobun Chino Otogawa, Jobs’s spiritual advisor.

Tickets for the 2020 summer season are now available online, at the SF Opera Box Office (301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco), and by calling (415) 864-3330.

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].