Francesca Zambello, John Adams, Peter Sellars, Matthew Shilvock
Photo: Scott Wall, courtesy of San Francisco Opera
As I said the other week to various friends, we have known the bulk of the SFO 2017-18 season for some time. David Gockley disclosed the summer, 2018 Ring sometime in 2015, and at the time named both Evelyn Herlitzius and Greer Grimsley as daughter and father, with the full cast announced this past fall. I have already commented on the cast; the production, which will be in its third complete bring-up, is a known commodity.
Then there was the surprise announcement last June of the John Adams commission, Girls of the Golden West. Between the Ring and Le Girls*, the company pre-announced most of the season.
And then, at the David Gockley gala, Michael Fabiano and Nadine Sierra sang a duet from Massenet's Manon, and there was so much nudge, nudge, wink, wink going on that you might think some hints were being dropped. Or so I've been told, since I wasn't there.
Now they've announced the season, and here it is, briefly; see the company web site for the full press release. Yes, Manon, plus the five pre-announced operas, plus three more, making nine for the season. Details and commentary below.
The press conference started with Matthew Shilvock talking about-opera company-as-community, given how many people it takes to stage one opera, let alone a mammoth undertaking such as the Ring. He lavished praise on Nicola Luisotti, whose name is on the announcement, but who wasn't able to be present "because he is conducting Pagliacci [looks at watch] at this very moment in Turin." Shilvock thanked a lot of people as he went through the announcement, and had some witty commentary on some of the casting. Announcing Stephanie Blythe (!) as Klytemnestra, he positively relished linking that role back to her very funny turn as Mrs. Lovett. Okay, but I do not think she baked Agamemmnon into a pie!
And, while thanking David Gockley along the way, he mentioned that Gockley planned this entire season. That was a smart thing to say. Next season is far better than the current season, but we are on notice that we can't tell from 2017-18 what the future artistic direction of the company will be. And, honestly, that is what I'm most curious about right now.
The structure of the press conference unfortunately did not really allow for asking that kind of question, because the bulk of it was taken up by an extended chat/Q&A session, with Shilvock asking quite good questions of guests John Adams, Peter Sellars, and Francesca Zambello. Those three were present for obvious reasons: the upcoming Adams commission and the season-ending Ring, in Zambello's production. The connecting thread really was gold and the fact that a good chunk of Rheingold is set in the Sierra Nevada.
There was only time at the end for a few questions from the press, alas, so I didn't get to ask any of the several questions I had in mind. By then, because Peter Sellars had had a lot to say, I had pretty much given up on them, in fact. That said, the three of them had good stuff to say, as well as a lot; I noted particularly some comments by Adams about how the music of mid-19th c. American didn't have much of a national character yet, and also that what the singer have to sing is more like songs than arias in this opera. He also mentioned the California history series written by Kevin Starr, former state historian; Starr died rather young of a heart attack this past weekend. His mid-19th c. volume might make a good introduction to the period of the opera.
Here's the season:
Turandot, split presentation, with six performances in September, including opening night, and six in November/December. Nicola Luisotti conducts. Turandot: Martina Serafin/Nina Stemme; Calaf: Brian Jagde; Liu: Maria Agresta & Toni Marie Palmertree (September)/Leah Crocetto (November/December); Timur: Raymond Aceto/Solomon Howard. It is the same old Hockney production (groan). Wish they'd replace this. Not only has it been done for more than 20 years, it would be excellent to have a production that "interrogates the opera," as musicologist Mark Berry might say. I am curious about Stemme, Serafin, Agresta, and Palmertree in their roles; I've seen Crocetto's Liu; I'm....dubious about how much of a success Jagde will be as Calaf.
Elektra, six performances, September. Henrik Nánási conducts. Elektra: Christine Goerke (cheering); Chrysothemis: Adrianne Pieczonka; Klytemnestra: Stephanie Blythe; Orest: Alfred Walker; Aegisthus: Robert Brubaker. New production by Keith Warner, co-produced with National Theatre of Prague and Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe. I admit to being....dubious....about the Konzept, as described by Matthew Shilvock during the press conference. It's set in a museum that has an exhibit on the Elektra complex, and a woman who has somehow gotten stranded in the museum after hours looks it over and makes some personal discoveries. I think. This is such a deeply psychological opera that any sort of framing device adds unnecessary layers; there are already plenty of layers in the opera as written.
It's been around 20 years since Elektra was last done in SF, so, regardless of the production, it's about time. Along with the Adams, it's my pick for most interesting work of the season. Not to mention, what a great cast, with Goerke and Pieczonka both proven to be terrific with the sister act. Blythe should be an interesting Klytemnestra. The conductor is Hungarian and music director of the Komische Oper, Berlin.
La Traviata, ten performances in September and October. Nicola Luisotti conducts, and this will presumably be his last appearances as music director of SFO. (Matthew Shilvock did mention that they are in discussions with him about future guest appearances.) Curiously, Donald Runnicles' last run as MD was also in Traviata. I was at that performance, with Elizabeth Futral, David Lomeli, and Stephen Powell, and Runnicles got a bigger hand than anyone in the cast. Violetta: Aurelia Florian; Alfredo Germont: Atalla Ayan; Giorgio Germont: Artur Rucinski. The John Copley production, getting a little worn around the edges. I know nothing at all about Aurelia Florian and Atalla Ayan. I have heard Artur Rucinski at his web site, and he has a beautiful and impressive sound and style.
Manon, six performances in November. Patrick Fournillier conducts. Manon: Nadine Sierra; Chevalier des Grieux: Michael Fabiano; Comte des Grieux: James Creswell; Lescaut: David Pershall. New production by Vincent Boussard, who also designed the costumes. His work was last seen here in I Capuleti a few seasons ago; remember Nicole Cabell on the edge of a sink? It'll be interesting to see Fabiano and Sierra together. Fournillier conducted Cyrano de Bergerac, which was nicely done, a lovely but not very memorable bonbon.
Girls of the Golden West, eight performances in November and December, with the premiere - world premiere, that is - coming on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, an odd date. Grant Gershon of the LA Master Chorale conducts, his debut at SF Opera. He has conducted a lot of Adams in LA and is taking over The Gospel According to the Other Mary from Joana Carneiro at SFS. Dame Shirley: Julia Bullock; Ned Peters: Davone Tines; Josefa Segovia: J'Nai Bridges; Clarence King: Ryan McKinny; Joe Cannon: Paul Appleby; Ah Sing: Hye Jung Lee; Ramon: Elliot Madore; Lola Montez: SF Ballet dancer Lorena Feijoo. Peter Sellars directs and is credited with the libretto. Sound design by Mark Grey (amplification, as is usual with Adams). Co-production with The Dallas Opera, Nationale Opera & Ballet Amsterdam and Teatro La Fenice. In other words, miss it here, and you'll be able to see it elsewhere. The Met has never commissioned Adams - this seems inexplicable, given his history as an opera composer - but they've done three of his works, so they may well pick it up at some point.
* Le Girls, after Giacomo Puccini. There's a sketch of the opening of La Fanciulla del West at the Morgan Library in NYC on which he called the opera La Girl. I am not making this up, you know: I saw it with my own eyes many years ago.