The final three operas in the 2016–17 season of the San Francisco Opera (SFO) will be presented as part of the annual Summer Season, which will begin at the end of this month and run through the beginning of July. Because this will coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, whose focal point was the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, all three operas of the season will offer individual perspectives on love and its role in the challenging of social mores. This was the real theme behind the original Summer of Love. It took place when opposition to the Vietnam War was become less isolated and more prevalent across the United States; and one of the mottos to arise from that mass opposition was, “Make love, not war.” Here are the specifics about the three operas to be presented in the order of their respective first performances.
Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi: This is the latest revival of a production that was first performed in September of 1997, which was directed by Mark Lamos. The production was particularly striking due to the sets designed by Michael Yeargan, whose imagery reflected many of the chilling images of the Italian artist Giorgio de Chirico. De Chirico’s disturbing interplay of light and darkness was underscored by the colorful costumes designed by Constance Hoffman.
This summer’s revival will be directed by Rob Kearley in his first engagement with SFO, and the lighting design by Gary Marder will adapt to Kearley’s approach. For those who do not already know the plot, the title character, sung by baritone Quinn Kelsey, is the hunchback jester at the court of the Duke of Mantua, sung by tenor Pene Pati, a setting for which “den of iniquity” would be an inadequate understatement. Rigoletto has kept his daughter Gilda, sung by soprano Nino Machaidze, in hiding to shelter her from the prevailing vice that has taken over the entire city of Mantua. However, Gilda has been discovered in church by the Duke (disguised as a penniless student) and has become a target of his lust. Suffice it to say that this is not a narrative in which virtue is rewarded and vice punished!
This production will be a role debut for Adler Fellow Pati and the SFO debut of Machaidze. Music Director Nicola Luisotti will conduct all but the final performance. On that last occasion SFO Resident Conductor Jordi Bernàcer will take the podium of the SFO Orchestra.
Rigoletto will be given eight performances. These will take place at 7:30 p.m. on May 31, June 6, 9, 14, 22, and 27, and July 1 and at 2 p.m. on June 18. The libretto by Francesco Maria Piave will be sung in Italian with English supertitles. The approximate running time will be two and one-half hours.
Don Giovanni by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: If the Duke of Mantua is a vile seducer, his achievements are dwarfed by Mozart’s title character, the legendary figure whose name, Don Juan, has risen to adjectival status. The plot is captured in the first phrase of the full title of Mozart’s K. 527 opera, “Il dissoluto punito” (the rake punished). In his own catalog Mozart classified this as an opera buffa (comic opera); but his librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, preferred to call it a dramma giocoso, assigning a comic adjective (giocoso) to a serious noun (dramma).
The title role will mark the SFO debut of Italian bass-baritone Ildebrando D’Arcangelo; and the role of his servant Leporello will be shared by basses Erwin Schrott and Erik Anstine, both also making SFO debuts. Da Ponte’s libretto is organized around three women. The first of these is Donna Anna, soprano Erin Wall in her SFO debut, whom the Don is trying to seduce at the beginning of the first act. He is challenged by her father, the Commendatore, sung by bass Andrea Silvestrelli, whom the Don stabs to death with his sword. Anna then persuades her fiancé Don Ottavio, sung by French tenor Stanislas de Barbeyrac in another SFO debut, to help her seek vengeance.
The Don then goes after another woman, only to discover that he had previously married her. This is Donna Elvira, sung by soprano Ana María Martínez, who is also out for vengeance after having been abandoned. Escaping Elvira’s clutches, the Don then sets his sights on the peasant girl Zerlina, soprano Sarah Shafer, making her role debut, who is about to marry Masetto, bass Michael Sumuel. With these characters Da Ponte’s libretto weaves an elaborate web of deceit and vengeance reinforced with some of Mozart’s most adventurous music.
This will be a revival of the production last performed in 2011, which was staged by Gabriele Lavia. However, Alessandro Camera’s set designs will be reconceived and enhanced with projections by Tommi Brem, who will be working with SFO for the first time. Italian director Jacopo Spirei, also making his SFO debut, will then adapt the original staging to fit the new designs. All performances will be conducted by Marc Minkowski, another SFO debut, whose major activity in his native France is the leadership of the period-instrument ensemble Les Musiciens du Louvre.
Don Giovanni will also be given eight performances. These will take place at 2 p.m. on June 4 and at 7:30 p.m. on June 8, 11, 13, 16, 21, 24, and 30. The libretto will be sung in Italian with English supertitles. The approximate running time will be three hours and twenty minutes. Anstine will sing on June 24 and 30, and Schrott will sing at all other performances.
La bohème by Giacomo Puccini: This will be the opera that will come closest to capturing the counterculture spirit of the Summer of Love but without the sharp edge of the antiwar movement. It is based on the somewhat autobiographical novel by Henri Murger, Scènes de la vie de bohème (scenes of the bohemian life), in which he documented the poverty (and attic accommodations) that he shared with his fellow artists and intellectuals. His Wikipedia page cites the “pathos, humour and sadness” of this novel, all of which were captured in the libretto that Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa prepared for Puccini. Those emotions are framed in the amorous pursuits of the two leading male characters, the poet Rodolfo, sung by Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz, and the painter Marcello, sung by baritone Audun Iversen. Rodolfo’s paramour is the seamstress Mimi, whose role will be shared by sopranos Erika Grimaldi and Julie Adams; and the object of Marcello’s affections is Musetta, sung by soprano Ellie Dehn.
Director John Caird will return to revive the staging he first created in 2014 for a co-production with the Houston Grand Opera and the Canadian Opera Company. The production will again use the stage designs of David Farley and the lighting designs of Michael James Clark. The conductor will be Carlo Montanaro.
La bohème will also be given eight performances. These will take place at 7:30 p.m. on June 10, 15, 17, 20, 23, 25, and 29 and at 2 p.m. on July 2. The libretto by Francesco Maria Piave will be sung in Italian with English supertitles. The approximate running time will be two hours and twenty minutes. Adams will sing Mimi on June 20 and 25, and Grimaldi will sing in all other performances.
All performances of these three operas 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 $26 to $397 (subject to change). Tickets may be purchased online through separate event pages on the SFO Web site created for Rigoletto, Don Giovanni, and La bohème. Tickets may also be purchased at the Box Office in the outer lobby of the Opera House. The Box Office may also be reached by telephoning 415-864-3330. Standing room tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance. They are sold for $10, cash only.
Finally, the next opera to be given a live simulcast to AT&T Park will be Don Giovanni. 30,000 attendees, from opera enthusiasts to those who just enjoy the ballpark, will be able to experience a real-time video/audio hookup of the performance at the War Memorial Opera House. Seating will be available not only in the stands but also on the field itself. Those interested need only go to the Registration Web page on the SFO Web site, where they can request seating for one, two, three, or four attendees and specify whether wheelchair access will be necessary. The gates will open at 5 p.m. on Friday, June 30; and there will be no charge for admission. Once attendees start arriving, the video facility will be used to keep everyone entertained until the opera begins at 7:30 p.m.