Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

San Francisco Opera announces 2018-19 season


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A recent conversation with San Francisco Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock centered on the announcement this week of repertory in the Company's 2018-19 Season. The chat offered interesting highlights of the productions and confirmed our impression of the young leader's (early 40s) encouraging executive and artistic viewpoint. Well-spoken (Oxford and Amherst), with confidence that comes from an encyclopedic knowledge of the operatic canon and the thousands of artists who maintain it, he also communicates genuine passion and a calm determination to ensure the future of a "perpetually resonant" tradition.

Shilvock came to SFO in 2005 as part of David Gockley's transition team, serving as Associate General Director since 2010 until his promotion in 2016. Commuting from Marin, where he and his wife are raising their two children, he has become a full-fledged San Franciscan. Knowing the history of the city and its legendary intersection with opera, Shilvock is keen on reaching out to a rapidly changing demographic. He understands the "complicated jigsaw puzzle" of staging opera and all of the pieces.

The 96th season is the first to be fully programmed (with one exception) by Shilvock's administration. Geared to boost subscriptions, a special enticement is offered by a one-matinee concert in October starring Placido Domingo with Latin American guest artists. It will initially be available to Full Series subscribers only.

The season reveals the absence of two composers, Verdi and Mozart, but Shilvock says everyone couldn't fit into the first round of his commitment to renovating the classic repertoire, and "This is a season of the new." All productions are new to the War Memorial, thematically divided between fairy-tale scores with messages and works of "pure unadulterated emotion." Each is meant to "speak to the heart."

Conducting assignments are taken by an exciting roster of musicians, six new to a mainstage season. I asked about the active search for a new Music Director. Conductors will be noted for their interaction with the Company. Nothing like a trial run, though the international opera community has introduced many additions to the SFO family.

Old connections and associations are sprinkled throughout the cast and crew listings. Loyalty is obvious, but younger talent and promising debuts are included. There is diversity, some colorblind casting, and a woman will be seen on the podium: South Korean rising star Eun Sun Kim.


Fall 2018 season

San Francisco Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock. Photo: Simon Pauly/San Francisco Opera

Double bill: Mascagni's raw and melodic Cavalleria Rusticana with Leoncavallo's verismo Pagliacci , featuring the original scary clown. Renowned Argentinian tenor-turned-director Jose Cura has staged the two-fer in the Italian barrio of Buenos Aires. Russian mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk returns after her fine Amneris in "Aida," and Armenian soprano Lianna Haroutounian is back after triumphs in Puccini.

Donizetti's Roberto Devereux, the final work in his trio of Tudor Queen operas, hasn't been staged for almost 40 years. British director Stephen Lawless reunites three stars of 2014's "Norma." Shilvock rightfully calls soprano Sondra Radvanovsky a "reigning diva," but mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton is rising fast, and tenor Russell Thomas is a powerful singer making his role debut as the title character.

A brand-new Puccini Tosca, the fabled shocker that established the SFO brand, comes next. Shilvock has infectious enthusiasm for the latest incarnation, giving an intriguing description of designer Robert Innes Hopkins' red-hued color scheme. Local favorite Brian Jagde is Cavaradossi, and baritone Scott Hendricks portrays Baron Scarpia. Making her Company and role debuts, Italian soprano Carmen Giannattasio is Tosca. A preview of her glamorous looks and thrilling voice can be seen on YouTube.

Shilvock adds one of his favorite composers to the season with Richard Strauss' lyrical Arabella. Innovative director Tim Albery debuts with his update of the romantic story. Ellie Dehn, Brian Mulligan, Heidi Stober and Michaela Martens are becoming household names; hearing them in one grand night of singing offers a special treat.

West Coast Premiere: Jake Heggie (composer) and Gene Scheer (librettist), It's a Wonderful Life. Shilvock calls them one of modern opera's best artistic partnerships, and their co-commissioned new work arrives with revisions after the world premiere. The sugar coating is gone, but the heartwarming tale is still in time for the holidays.


Summer 2019 season

Fall 2018 season

San Francisco Opera will present the West Coast premiere of composer Jake Heggie (above) and librettist Gene Scheer's new work, "It's a Wonderful Life." Photo: San Francisco Opera

Bizet: Carmen. Francesca Zambello's production showcases mezzo-soprano J'Nai Bridges. Memories of her success in "Girls of the Golden West" make this unmissable. You will be able to say, "I knew her when." There may be no nudity this time, but Shilvock laughs and says we will "just have to wait and see."

Handel: Orlando. The General Director gets some of his love for Baroque music onstage, and I get to hear favorite mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke make her role debut.

Dvorak: Rusalka. A bewitching piece about a water nymph who trades her voice for love sounds like Disney, but goes deeper. Reunited after their praised SFO appearances in "Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg," American singers Rachel Willis-Sorensen and Brandon Jovanovich team again with David McVicar, the brilliant director of that production. Jamie Barton makes another appearance, and celebrated bass Ferrucio Furlanetto is the Water Gnome.


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