Today at 1 p.m. subscription tickets went on sale for the 2020–21 season of the San Francisco Opera (SFO). There are a few interesting ways in which the schedule will depart from the usual format. Most important is that 2021 will be the year in which seats in the Orchestra, Grand Tier, and Dress Circle sections of the War Memorial Opera House will be replaced. As a result, the second half of the season, usually referred to as the “summer schedule” will take place during the months of April and May.
The other major change is that opening night festivities will not include an opera performance. Instead there will be a gala concert conducted by Music Director Designate Eun Sun Kim, which will feature performances by soprano Albina Shagimuratova and tenor Pene Pati, who will subsequently perform the role of the Duke of Mantua in the season’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto. The remaining festivities will, as usual include the Opera Ball, the Opera Supper, and the BRAVO! CLUB black-tie gala. This event will be included in the Full Series A and Out of Town Series 1 subscription packages. Five operas will be presented during the fall season with two additional operas taking place in the spring, making for a total of seven operas, summarized briefly as follows:
Fidelio by Ludwig van Beethoven: The season will begin with SFO’s contribution to Beethoven’s 250th anniversary. This will be a new production staged by Matthew Ozawa, and Kim will be the conductor. The title role (better known as Leonora) will be sung by former Adler Fellow soprano Elza van den Heever; and her Florestan will be sung by Simon O’Neill. Casting also calls for three bass-baritones, Falk Struckmann in the sinister role of Pizarro, Eric Owns as the kindly jailer Rocco, and Alfred Walker in the deus ex machina role of Fernando. (Walker will be making his debut in this role.)
Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi: This production will see the return of the staging by Mark Lamos, directed on this occasion by Jose Maria Condemi. What may be the most memorable aspect, however, is the work of Set Designer Michael Yeargan, which was inspired by the chilling surrealism of Italian artist Giorgio de Chirico. The title role will be sung by baritone George Gagnidze, and soprano Nina Minasyan will make her American opera debut in the role of his daughter, Gilda. As previously observed, tenor Pene Pati will sing the role of the decadent Duke of Mantua. The conductor will be Mark Elder.
Così fan tutte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: This will be the second installment in the SFO “trilogy” treatment of the three Mozart operas based on libretti by Lorenzo da Ponte, conceived and directed by Michael Cavanagh. As was observed last season, all three operas share a common setting, which Cavanagh calls “the Great American House of Mozart and Da Ponte.” That house suggests the architectural skills of Thomas Jefferson, whom I like to call “the Great American Polymath.” The first production, presenting Mozart’s K. 492 The Marriage of Figaro, took place in the early years of the newly-constituted United States of America. Così (K. 588) advances along the timeline to the mid-1930s, that period that began with efforts to get the country out of depression and ended with the rise of Adolf Hitler and the first winds of World War II. There are only six roles in the opera, all of which a rich in individual personal traits. Speranza Scappucci will make her SFO debut as conductor.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Poul Ruders: This will be the West Coast premiere of an opera the SFO co-produced with the Royal Danish Opera. Based on Margaret Atwood’s novel of the same title, the production will be staged by John Fulljames, Royal Danish Opera Artistic Director, who will be making his SFO debut. Danish conductor Thomas Søndergård will also be making his SFO debut. The critical title role in this narrative will be sung by mezzo Sasha Cooke, making her role debut.
La bohème by Giacomo Puccini: The next returning production will also see the return of conductor Nicola Luisotti. Shawna Lucey will direct the revival of the staging that John Caird first created in 2014 for a co-production with the Houston Grand Opera and the Canadian Opera Company. The performance will be shared by two casts.
The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini: The final revival of the season and the first of the spring operas will be Emilio Sagi’s zany production, first performed in the fall of 2013. This production will also be double-cast; but baritone Lucas Meachem will sing the role of Figaro in all performances. The conductor will be Roderick Cox, making his SFO debut.
Der Zwerg by Alexander von Zemlinsky: This will be the SFO premiere of the one-act opera that Zemlinsky completed in January of 1921, based on Oscar Wilde’s story “The Birthday of the Infanta.” Zemlinsky was one of the first to sustain a passionate affair with Alma Schindler (best known today as Alma Mahler), even though she chided him mercilessly for his ugliness. The central character in Wilde’s story is a dwarf, with whom Zemlinsky identified as he worked on his Opus 17 opera. That role will be sung by heldentenor Clay Hilley, and the infanta will be sung by soprano Heidi Stober. Staging will be by Darko Tresnjak; and the orchestra podium will see the return of Henrik Nánási, who conducted The Marriage of Figaro last season.
The spring season will conclude with a concert performance, which will also be conducted by Nánási. Sopranos Lianna Haroutounian and Iréne Theorin will give three performances in celebration of the music of Verdi and Richard Wagner. The program will also include selections by Puccini and Richard Strauss. The other concert offering will be the annual Opera in the Park program, which will feature solo performances by soprano Sondra Radvanovsky. As in the past, this concert will take place at Robin Williams Meadow in Golden Gate Park on the afternoon of Sunday, October 18. Subscriptions are now on sale for a variety of different combinations of offerings, all of which may be viewed through hyperlinks to to the “subscription home page” on the SFO Web site.