Tuesday, January 22, 2019

San Francisco Opera 97th Season, 2019-20

Edward Parks as Steve Jobs
Photo: Ken Howard / Santa Fe Opera

San Francisco Opera today announced its 97th season, which opens on September 6, 2019. Like 2018-19, next season will have eight operas, still down from the 9 or 10 that the company has performed recently, and far down from the 11 to 13 staged at the turn of the 21st century.

The company remains without a music director heading into 2019-20, and in an interview, General Director Matthew Shilvock noted that they're "still in a very exciting period of discovery and exploration. We're still getting to know new conductors, with three new ones this season and reacquainting ourselves with Lawrence Renes, who conducted 2012's Nixon in China. I believe that a [potential] music director has to go through the full rehearsal and production cycle, as well the audience engagement process. The music director does a lot to set the musical values of the company."

Asked about the possibility of the retirement or departure of orchestral principals, who would typically be hired by the music director and a musician committee, Shilvock noted that the company is working closely with the orchestra on the protocols for such an eventuality, should it take place before the appointment of the next music director. As for the length of the season, he said that while the company regularly explores how to lengthen the season, it's most important to maintain the artistic quality that San Francisco Opera audiences expect, rather than try for greater quantity.

Of the eight productions in 2019-21, six are new to SFO, with two revivals. The season cannily balances the season across a wide chronological span, from Baroque opera, through Mozart, 19th century German and Italian works, and into the 20th and 21st centuries.

Edward Parks as Steve Jobs
Photo: Ken Howard / Santa Fe Opera

At the 21st century end of that range, the season includes an eagerly-awaited San Francisco Opera co-production, Mason Bates' The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, which premiered in Santa Fe in 2017 and focuses on the life of the Silicon valley icon and Apple founder. SFO will use the Santa Fe Opera production, with its original cast and conductor.

Shilvock said that Bates and librettist Mark Campbell have made some changes, expanding and deepening the role of Laurene Powell Jobs. These changes will be heard for the first time at the upcoming Seattle Opera production. "It's very exciting for us, as a company, to be involved in the process of developing a new work in it formative years," said Shilvock. "We're planning some exciting events to go with the production, and we think it will be a great entry point to opera with members of the tech community. It explores the stresses of competition and the tension between work and family, and our hope is that people will see the opera a not just a biography, but reflective of the community."

2014 production of Partenope
Photo: Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera

The two revivals are Olivier Tambosi's 2006 production of Puccini's Manon Lescaut, which stars Liannna Haroutounian in the title role and Brian Jagde as her lover Des Grieux, former music director Nicola Luisotti conducting, and Christopher Alden's production of Handel's Partenope, first seen here in 2014. Daniela Mack and Alek Shrader remain from the original cast, with soprano Louise Alder making her company in the title role. Countetenors Franco Fagioli and Jakub Józef Orlinski also make company debuts. The recent Adler Fellow Hadleigh Adams rounds out the cast. Christopher Moulds conducts; he will also conduct this season's Orlando.

Bryan Hymel

The season opens with Gounod's Romeo and Juliet, an opera not seen at SFO in 31 years. It will star Bryan Hymel (last seen as Enée in Les Troyens) and Nadine Sierra as Shakespeare's lovers, with Lucas Meachem as Mercutio and James Creswell as Frian Lawrence. Former Adler Fellows (and husband and wife) Pene Pati and Amina Edris sing the lovers inthe final performance. Yves Abel return to the podium.

Billy Budd
Photo: Alastair Muir

The fall season continues with the return of Britten's Billy Budd, in a production from Glyndbourne Opera that stars debuting baritone John Chest as Billy, tenor William Burden as Captain Vere, and bass-baritone Christian Van Horn as Claggart, with Renes conducting. Matthew Shilvock has commented in the past about the importance of staging 20th c. classics, including the operas of Benjamin Britten, and this is the first fruit of that commitment.

Michael Sumuel, Figaro in Le Nozze di Figaro

Jeanine de Bique, Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro

An exciting new production of The Marriage of Figaro will also be featured in the fall season. Directed by Michael Cavanaugh (Nixon, Lucia di Lammermoor, Susannah), it will be the first of a planned series of new productions of the three great Mozart-da Ponte operas, with Cosi fan Tutte and Don Giovanni to follow. In Cavanaugh's staging, the three operas will be moved to a mansion located in the United States, and Cosi and Don Giovanni will be relocated in time.  Michael Sumuel returns to the company as Figaro, with debuting soprano Jeanine De Bique, a native of Trinidad, as Susanna. Henrik Nánási will conduct.

Le Nozze di Figaro
Production design by Erhard Rom

Asked about the possibility of intersectional interpretation of the works, since Figaro will star two Black singers, Shilvock remarked that"as we worked through the new productions with Cavanaugh, the idea of transporting the revolutionary fervor from [18th century Europe to the revolution fervor of America at that time made a lot of sense. The exploration of racial tensions isn't a requirement, but the casting will help explore the development of race relations in the United States. It will be a powerful way to help audiences engage with the opera."

Hansel and Gretel
Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera / Royal Opera

The fall season closes with a new co-production, with the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, of Englebert Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel, starring Sasha Cooke and Heidi Stober as the siblings and Michaela Martens and Alfred Walker as their parents, with Robert Brubaker as the Witch. This production has already been seen in London.

Partenope and The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs will be performed during the summer of 2020, as will a new production of Verdi's early opera Ernani. Last seen here in 1984, the Lyric  Opera of Chicago production will star Russell Thomas, making his role debut as Ernani, and debuting soprano Michelle Bradley as Elivra. Simone Piazzola and Christian Van Horn round out the cast, with James Gaffigan conducting.

The season does not include any productions at the Taube Atrium Theater. In response to this questiion, Shilvock said that the entire Wilsey Center "has been transformative for the company, by bringing together so many functions under one roof, transforming communications among the different groups, and giving us a new and important space for orchestra rehearsals when the opera house pit can't be used. The Center is in active and regular use by the company, but it's expensive to put on performances in the Atrium Theater, and main stage performance quality takes priority. We don't have current plans for productions there because of the financial challenges of adding new programming elements."

In closing, Shilvock remarked that he's very excited about the debuting singers, such as sopranos Louise Alder and Jennifer Davis [the Countess in Nozze] and about the many role debuts as well, including Thomas as Ernani and Bryan Hymel as Romeo. "Singers are very appreciative of the welcoming nature of our audience, and so they are happy to take on new roles for us. I'm proud of the number of debut we have this season and of the opportunities we give to these singers."
Season summary:

  • Romeo et Juliette, Gounod, with Bryan Hymel (Romeo), Nadine Sierra (Juliette), Lucas Meachem (Mercutio), James Creswell (Friar Lawrence), conducted by Yves Abel. Opéra de Monte Carlo / Teatro Carlo Felice co-production directed by Jean-Louis Grinda. Pene Pati and Amina Edris sing the title roles for one performance. September 6 to October 1, 2019.
  • Billy Budd, Britten, with John Chest (Billy), William Burden (Vere), Christian Van Horn (Claggert), conducted by Lawrence Renes. Glyndbourne Opera production directed by Michael Grandage. September 7 to 22, 2019.
  • Le Nozze di Figaro, Mozart, with Michael Sumuel (Figaro), Jeanine De Bique (Susanna), Levente Molnár* (Count Almaviva), Jennifer Davis** (Countess Almaviva), Serena Malfi* (Cherubino). Conducted by Henrik Nanasi. New production directed by Michael Cavanaugh. October 11 to November 1, 2019.
  • Manon Lescaut, Puccini. Lianna Haroutounian (Manon Lescaut), Brian Jagde (Des Grieux), Anthony Clark Evans (Lescaut), Eric Halvorson (Geronte). Conducted by Nicola Luisotti. Production directed by Olivier Tambosi, seen in San Francisco in 2006. November 8 to 26, 2019.
  • Hansel and Gretel, Humperdinck. Sasha Cooke (Hansel), Heidi Stober (Gretel), Robert Brubaker (Witch), Michaela Martens (Gertrude), Alfred Walker (Peter). Conducted by Christopher Franklin. Performed in English. Directed and production designed by Antony McDonald. Co-production of San Francisco Opera and Royal Opera, Covent Garden. November 15 to December 7, 2019.
  • Ernani, Verdi. Russell Thomas (Ernani), Michelle Bradley (Elvira), Simone Piazzola (Don Carlo), Christian Van Horn (Don Ruy Gomez de Silva). Conducted by James Gaffigan, directed by Jose Maria Condemi. Lyric Opera of Chicago production. June 7 to July 2, 2020.
  • Partenope, Handel. Louise Alder (Partenope), Daniela Mack (Rosmira), Franco Fagioli (Arsace), Jakub Jozef Orlinsky (Armindo), Alek Shrader (Emilio), Hadleigh Adams (Ormonte). Conducted by Christopher Moulds. English National Opera and Opera Australia production by Christopher Alden; revival directed by Ray Rallo. Last seen in SF in 2014. June 12-27, 2020.
  • The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, Bates. Edward Parks (Steve Jobs), Sasha Cooke (Laurene Powell Jobs), Garrett Sorenson (Woz), Wei Wu (Kobun Chino Otagawa). Conducted by Michael Christie. Directed by Kevin Newberry. Commissioned by San Francisco Opera, The Santa Fe Opera and Seattle Opera with support from Cal Performances and co-produced with Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. San Francisco Opera premiere. June 20 to July 3, 2020.


Darrick Chen said...

Greetings Lisa!

Well now it's official - my spies got 7/8 correct, so "it's a good thing."

I am disappointed by the casting - no Yoncheva in Ernani and am cautious that Hymel will show up for Romeo. I'm not especially fond of Sierra or Meechem (or french opera if the truth be told) so the Gounod looks even less promising - was hoping for a big soprano star to make a debut here. I do so want to attend an opening night gala before I die, so maybe I ought to just suck it up. Do you go to the dinners? Maybe I can sit on your table if you have room? I should probably find a date to come along.

I like Britten so I think Budd is on my schedule. I missed Nathan Gunn the last time, so this is it. I've always been surprised by how much I like Britten operas.

While the Mozart looks devoid of great Mozartian voices, the production intrigues me. I always thought Figaro was ripe to be moved to a plantation in the South to hammer home it's underlying master servant relationship that I think many overlook in a traditional production set in Spain. Could be edgy and interesting. But I think one would really need a daring director and I have no clue about who SFO hired.

I think Manon Lescaut looks like the best cast production, but I'm not fond of this Puccini opera. Probably will skip this one

Not sure what to think about Hansel and Gretel. I recall singing the Angel's Chorus when I was in elementary school, but may pass on this one as well.

Ernani - as I said I am so disappointed Yoncheva scratched. But I do want to see this one before I die, so I'll probably attend and hope for the best. Thomas should be excellent.

I'm skipping the last two - I really don't like baroque opera and Steve Jobs doesn't seem all that an interesting opera topic - but maybe.

I'm hoping someone talks me into going to more of the 19/20 season, but it just looks dismal.

Your comments and analysis is appreciated, but it too sounds dismal as to the goings on behind the season.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I am also concerned about Hymel. I'm not surprised that they cast Sierra there at all.

I do not go to opening night galas and can barely be lured to opening night, where the audience is as unruly and uninterested in opera as can be.

Cavanaugh has done good work at SFO but I'm not sure how daring he is. I guess we will see! I am, meaning while, happy to say goodbye to the moth-eaten Copley production.

Hansel is a great, great opera, with wonderful music. I like the Tate and Eichhorn recordings; Tate has the slightly better cast, in that Anna Moffo is a truly terrible Hansel on a recording with mostly-great singers. Tate's conducting is also great. Avoid the overrated von Karajan, though!

Do you think Yoncheva scratched? Your source may have been mistaken....The Steve Jobs opera is pretty good. I saw it in Santa Fe and liked the music a lot: I characterized 2017 as "the year Mason Bates wrote a better opera than John Adams."

Henry Holland said...

Nice that Billy Budd is being done, good cast. I'll come up for a weekend, hopefully the Giants will be in town so I can go to that great ballpark again.

Henry Holland said...

YES, just checked the Giants schedule, they're at home v. the Marlins on Saturday 9/14 > Britten's great opera on 9/15. Perfect scheduling SFO and Giants! :-)