A populist bent to opera programming marks the San Francisco Opera's 2013-14 season, with a commissioned opera based on a Stephen King novel and the musical "Show Boat" on the season's slate.
The new season includes eight operas and a rare production of Verdi's Requiem, and celebrates the company's 80th year performing in the War Memorial Opera house.
One of the highlights of the season will be the commissioned opera "Dolores Claiborne," based on King's 1992 novel. That work will offer music by Tobias Picker and a libretto by J.D. McClatchy. The appearance of a commission such as "Claiborne" is par for the course for San Francisco Opera general director David Gockley, who has built a reputation as a keen commissioner of new works. Since he took over the reins in San Francisco in 2006 he has commissioned or co-comissioned six operas, including the current season's dramatically bracing production of "Moby Dick" by Jake Heggie.
The appearance of an opera based on a King novel comes with the expectation that such works will get people into the opera house in a period of back-to-back yearly deficits for the company.
The production premieres Sept. 18 and stars standout soprano Dolora Zajick in the title role.
" 'Claiborne' is a gutsy, powerful American verismo work," said Gockley. "It's an opera that offers very strong challenges and one that asks singers to respond emotionally. I think Zajick will tear up the stage."
Also in a populist vein will be Jerome Kern's esteemed musical "Show Boat," which gets its first outing at the War Memorial Opera house on June 1, 2014.
The appearance of a musical on the season schedule is no accident. Gockley produced "Show Boat" when he was general director at the Houston Grand Opera in the '80s.
" 'Show Boat' will be done as an opera, with opera singers and with roles that require full-throated singing. No mikes," said Gockley.
The production will see Patricia Racette in the Julia La Verne role and Heidi Stober as Magnolia. Nathan Gunn is cast as Gaylord Ravenal.
The production will be directed by Francesca Zambello, who has created productions of "Show Boat" for the Royal Albert Hall and Carnegie Hall. Zambello sees the American musical and opera as close brethren and believes the lines that separate them are blurring.
"I've long believed that musical theater is 'our' version of opera. With it we've forged something as popular as opera was in the 19th century," Zambello said. "We now need to find a way to allow opera and musical theater to live harmoniously in our American theater and opera-house landscape."
The season opens Sept. 6 with a production of Arrigo Boito's "Mefistofele," with Racette singing the roles of Marguerite and Elena. "Mefistofele" marks the return of an older San Francisco Opera production that had been sold to an opera company in Italy. Gockley tracked down the current owner of the production there and brought it back to San Francisco. The production boasts Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov in the title role and tenor Ramón Vargas singing Faust. Nicola Luisotti will conduct.
Noted bass-baritone Bryn Terfel performs the title role in "Falstaff" in a Lyric Opera of Chicago production starting Oct. 8. with direction by Olivier Tambosi. Luisotti conducts.
The seldom-performed Wagner opera "The Flying Dutchman" follows with an Oct. 22 opening, in a co-production with Opera Royal de Wallonie of Liege, Belgium. Bass-baritone Greer Grimsley sings the title role of a condemned ship captain and Petra Maria Schnitzer is Senta, the woman who risks it all to redeem him.
"We've not done 'Dutchman' in awhile and I wanted it this season for Wagner's bicentennial," said Gockley. "For this production, I was especially interested in getting Romanian director Petrika Ionesco since I've been very impressed with his theatricality."
Indeed, Ionesco made a splash in San Francisco with the bold pageantry of a 2010 company production of "Cyrano de Bergerac."
Fans of the popular opera documentary "The Audition" will be pleased to know that tenor Michael Fabiano will sing in the company's production of Verdi's Requiem in a single performance on Oct. 25. Fabiano made his own splash during the 2007 Metropolitan Opera Council Auditions; it was chronicled in the excellent behind-the-scenes documentary by Susan Froemke. The Requiem will also see soprano Leah Crocetto a winner of the 2010 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton singing.
A new production of "The Barber of Seville" follows, opening Nov. 13, with resident conductor Giuseppe Finzi making his first major debut with the company. The Emilio Sagi production offers a double cast, with one offering Lucas Meachem singing Figaro, mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard as Rosina and Mexican tenor Javier Camarena as Count Almaviva. Norwegian baritone Audun Iversen makes his U.S. debut as Figaro in the second cast, which boasts two Adler fellows: mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack as Rosina and tenor Alek Shrader as Count Almaviva.
"La Traviata," which opens June 11, 2014, features another double cast including Sonya Yoncheva and Ailyn Pérez sharing the role of Violetta, in a cast that also includes noted young Albanian tenor Saimir Pirgu and Stephen Costello alternating as Alfredo for the run. Luisotti and Finzi conduct a Laurie Feldman production.
The season ends with an Opera Omaha production of Puccini's "Madama Butterfly," debuting June 15, 2014. This production will see the third return of Racette, who sings Cio-Cio-San, and lyric tenor Brian Jagde as Pinkerton. The production will have set designs by sculptural ceramic artist Jun Kaneko, whose colorful set design of a production of "Magic Flute" in San Francisco recently drew rave reviews. Luisotti and Finzi conduct, and Leslie Swackhamer directs.
SAN FRANCISCO OPERA
What: The company's 2013-14 season:
"Mefistofele": Sept 6-Oct. 2
"Dolores Claiborne": Sept. 18-Oct. 4
"Falstaff": Oct. 8-Nov. 2
"The Flying Dutchman": Oct. 22-Nov. 15
"The Barber of Seville": Nov. 13-Dec. 1
"Show Boat": June 1-July 2, 2014
"La Traviata": June 11-July 13, 2014
"Madame Butterfly": June 15-July 9, 2014
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
Tickets: $23-$385. Subscription packages on sale Jan. 14. Single tickets: July
Information: (415) 864-3330; www.sfopera.com