Like other opera companies and major arts organizations, SFO is facing significant financial challenges. So far, ticket sales and donations have not slipped much, but the endowment has taken a major hit, which in turn reduces income to the opera. Currently, the opera's budget for the year (and I'm not sure if this is for 2009 or for the 2009-10 season) is $67 million, but they're looking to cut another few million off that number. They were able to get to this level by canceling hoped-for new productions of Peter Grimes and La Boheme, then canceling performances with the existing Grimes production altogether. This clearly pained Gockley a great deal. Oh, and there won't be a repeat of Boheme either, but that is less of a loss than Grimes. They've also trimmed the number of performances of those operas that are scheduled.
Ticket prices have crept up a bit, but the opera will continue to offer the kinds of discounts offered this past season, with some half-price tickets when they were available.
All that said, it's a season with plenty of meat, though most of the meat is Italian; it is the announced intention of the company to "move back to its Italian opera roots" after many years of less emphasis on Italian opera. They're going about it the right way, with Luisotti in charge of several Italian operas each season and very strong casting. And the two Puccini operas are the two mature works of his that I've never heard. Here's the season, with debuts given an asterisk, just so you can see how many singers are new to SFO:
- Il Trovatore, Radvanovsky*, Blythe* (stage debut; she will be in the Verdi Requiem that DR conducts in May), Hvorostovsky, Berti*/Luisotti. An alternate mezzo takes Azucena for two performances.
- Il Trittico, which SFO hasn't performed since...uh...before I was born. Racette, Gavanelli, Jovanavich, Glenn, Cook, Silvestrelli; Racette, Podles* (FINALLY), Arwady* (former Merola Fellow making good all over), Cook; Racette, Gavanelli, Lomelli, Silvestrelli, Cook/Summers. The modern production looks entertaining, Summers (dull in the Met Salome) not so much.
- Abduction from the Seraglio, Dunleavy, Christy, Polenzani, Bidlack, Rose/Meister*. Zzzz, but good singers, anyway, though Peter Rose as Osmin? I'm not so convinced.
- Daughter of the Regiment, Damrau*, Florez, Pratico*, Arwady, Nadler/Mariotti*. ZZZZZZ. I've heard and liked Damrau, though in very different music, as the Fiakermili in Arabella. She was charming in an annoying role. The question is whether I'll break my no-Donizetti-ever-again rule for her and Florez.
- Salome, Michael*, Mishura, Begley, Grimsley, Sorenson*, DeShong*/Luisotti!!! Yeah, this one looks like a big winner, though, you know, I was hoping for KM
- Otello, Botha*, Vassileva*, Vratogna*, Gibson*, Tatum*, Halvorson/Luisotti. Note the row of asterisks. I know only Botha (on record, not live), who has a gorgeous voice and will be an interesting and lyrical Moor. If the rest of the cast is as good, hoo boy. Luisotti was born to conduct this opera, so I am drooling with anticipation, especially given the disastrous last run of Otello, with poor Patricia Racette singing gloriously but surrounded by a rotating cast of Otellos, the ghastly-sounding Sergei Leiferkus, and the lackluster Runnicles, who was in the midst of a parallel run of St. Francois.
- Faust, Racette, Secco*, Relyea, Cook, Mack/Benini. Triple ZZZZZ, but the cast is intruiging, and I last saw a real production of this around 1972 at NYCO. Gockley said "...perhaps the first of a series of demonic roles for Relyea," leading me to wonder if that means we'll get Boito's Mefistofoles soon.
- La Fanciulla del West, Voigt, Licetra*, Frontalli/Luisotti. Woo hoo!
- Die Walkuere, Delavan, Stemme, Ventris, Westbroek*, Aceto, Baechle*/Runnicles, but you knew that, right? No one asked why Jennifer Larmore, who was a fine Fricka in last year's Rheingold, won't be taking this run of Walkuere.
Gockley also talked about new operas that are on the boards and one or two other plans for upcoming seasons.
Nixon in China is coming! He did not identify the singers, saying only that they will be from the "new generation" of singers. (I'm hoping for Gerald Finley, yes, I am.) Asked whether Adams would conduct, he said that he'd spoken to the composer, who had recommended a "conductor with whom he has had a recent very good experience. This conductor is not yet under contract, though we are having discussions, and so I cannot identify the individual." You can fill in the blanks, right? It's either Alan Gilbert, who conducted Doctor Atomic at the Met, or Marin Alsop, who had a sort of Adams fest in her first season at Baltimore.
The new operas leave me with a mixture of hope and dread. I expect the new Mark Adamo opera to be terrific, based on seeing Lysistrata at NYCO in 2006, and I expect it to be picketed, considering that the working title is The Gospel According to St. Mary Magdalen. That'll be fun!
Jennifer Higdon gets to write her first opera, on the recommendation of Donald Runnicles. I have reasonable hopes for this.
On the dread side, I've already made known what I think of Jake Heggie writing an opera on Moby-Dick. Wrong source material and a composer who is unlikely to meet the challenge. Christopher Theofanidis will write an opera on the subject of heroism and September 11, to be premiered on (you guessed this) Septembe 11, 2011. Dread, yes.