On Friday, September 9, San Francisco Opera (SFO) will launch its 2016–17 season with a gala performance of Umberto Giordano’s Andrea Chénier. The opera is named after the French poet, who was executed at the guillotine during the Reign of Terror that followed the French Revolution. However, librettist Luigi Illica was less interested in history than in weaving a narrative that would evoke intense passions from both the aristocrats and the revolutionaries in his dramatis personae. The staging will be the latest epic undertaking by David McVicar, following his recent productions on a similar scale for Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger and Hector Berlioz’ Les Troyens. This new staging is being shared with the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden and the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing. SFO Music Director Nicola Luisotti will be the conductor.
All three of the characters in the love triangle that Illica conceived at the heart of his libretto will be performed by vocalists making their respective SFO debuts. Chénier will be sung by South Korean tenor Younghoon Lee. Georgian baritone George Gagnidze will sing the role of Carlo Gérard, first seen as a servant at the palace of the Countess of Coigny, who then rises to become a leader of the revolution and a powerful figure in the Reign of Terror. (Gérard is loosely based on the historical figure Jean-Lambert Tallien.) Italian soprano Anna Pirozzi will sing the role of Maddalena di Coigny, the Countess’ daughter, whose flirtation with Chénier grows into love while she has to contend with the lusts of Gérard following the downfall of the French monarchy.
Andrea Chénier was the second opera to be performed during the first SFO season arranged by founder Gaetano Merola. (The first was Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca.) The first performance took place on September 27, 1923 with the famous tenor Beniamino Gigli in the title role. It thus has an appropriate historical pedigree for the launching of a new season. It will be given six performances taking place at 8 p.m. on September 9, 7:30 p.m. on September 14, 17, 22, and 30, and 2 p.m. on September 25. All performances will be sung in Italian with English supertitles.
Performances will take place at the War Memorial Opera House at 301 Van Ness Avenue, on the northwest corner of Grove Street. Single tickets are priced from $31 to $397. Tickets may be purchased online through an event page on the SFO Web site that provides hyperlinks for each performance. Tickets may also be purchased at the Box Office in the outer lobby of the Opera House. Standing room tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance. They are sold for $10, cash only.
Andrea Chénier will also be the first opera of the new season to be given an Insight Panel. This provides members of both the cast and the creative team to share their thoughts on preparing this production. Time is left at the end of the discussion for a Q&A with the audience. The entire event is one hour, and it will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, August 29. The venue will be Herbst Theatre at 401 Van Ness Avenue, on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. Admission is free for SFO members, subscribers, and students with valid identification. The charge for all others is $5. Pre-registration (including for those who do not have to pay) can be arranged through an Eventbrite event page. In addition, Company Dramaturg Clifford Cranna will give a 90-minute Opera Preview lecture. This will take place at noon on Tuesday, August 30, in the Koret Auditorium of the San Francisco Public Library and will be free for all. The Library is located at 100 Larkin Street, opposite the southeast corner of the Civic Center Plaza.
Finally, there are two special events that will be held in conjunction with the opening night of the SFO season. Opera Ball 2016 supplements the opera performance with an elegant cocktail reception, a sumptuous dinner, dancing, and celebration into the night. Further details can be found through a special event page on the SFO Web site. In addition, BRAVO! is a club for opera-lovers between the ages of 21 and 40. They have their own BRAVO! CLUB Opening Night Gala. This has its own event page on the SFO Web site, which includes a hyperlink for becoming a member of the club.