Harriet Harris, Bill Irwin, Kirsten Wyatt & John Bolton to Star in San Francisco Opera's SHOW BOAT; Performances Begin 6/1

Harriet Harris, Bill Irwin, Kirsten Wyatt & John Bolton to Star in San Francisco Opera's SHOW BOAT; Performances Begin 6/1

Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II's Show Boat opens San Francisco Opera's Summer Season on June 1 with nine subsequent performances through July 2, 2014. A watershed of American musical theater, Show Boat receives its Company premiere in director Francesca Zambello's new grand-scale "beautifully sung, smartly staged and handsomely designed (Chicago Tribune)" production. A beloved story of life on the Mississippi in the 1880s, Show Boat is both a poignant love story and a powerful reminder of America's bitter legacy of racism. The score is filled with unforgettable songs such as "Ol' Man River" and "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man," and the dazzling production features large, colorful sets, sumptuous costumes and exhilarating dance numbers. Of recent performances at Houston Grand Opera, the Houston Chronicle wrote "[This is] a towering work. . . there's a magnificence in its music, its narrative sweep, its deep awareness of something bigger than ourselves."

San Francisco Opera's production of Show Boat runs in repertory with Verdi's La Traviata (June 11-July 13) and Puccini's Madama Butterfly (June 15-July 9). All performances feature the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus and take place at the War Memorial Opera House.

This production continues San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley's long history with Show Boat. His historic 1982 production at Houston Grand Opera restored-for the first time since 1927-substantial sections of the original score and dialogue. This ground-breaking production premiered in Houston, toured the United States, then travelled to the Uris Theatre on Broadway and was ultimately recorded for what became a best-selling album on the EMI label. In 1989, Gockley revived Show Boat at Houston Grand Opera, then took it to Cairo, Egypt, where the work served as the inaugural performance in the newly-constructed Cairo National Culture Centre. David Gockley explains: "In this day and age, only opera companies command the resources necessary to give a grand work like Show Boat its artistic due. The commercial theater sector, which gave birth to Show Boat and many others of its genre, simply cannot afford to remount these works on their terms. The original orchestrations called for an orchestra of 50, two choruses, dancers and a large cast of principals. As a top tier opera company, we are able to present this work the way Kern and Hammerstein intended it, and we are able to cast the type of rich, legitimate voices required to give it its luster."

The extraordinary ensemble cast features stars spanning the worlds of opera, Broadway, theater, dance, television and film. American soprano Heidi Stober makes her role debut as the innocent, love-struck Magnolia Hawks. Stober's recent San Francisco Opera credits include Susanna in Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro, Atalanta in Handel's Xerxes, Pamina in Mozart's The Magic Flute and Nannetta in Verdi's Falstaff. Of her Pamina, the San Jose Mercury News praised her "marvelous performance" and "more than beautiful" voice, concluding that "every time she arrives on stage, Mozart re-emerges in all his richness. In the end, we go to the opera to hear singing; this woman can sing."

Michael Todd Simpson makes his San Francisco Opera debut as the handsome gambler Gaylord Ravenal, a role he previously performed to great success at Washington National Opera. The Washington Times wrote of his portrayal: "Mr. Simpson's rich, supple baritone voice was the perfect match for his character's youthful confidence." Also this season, the striking young American baritone has appeared as John Sorel in The Consul with Seattle Opera and as Demetrius in A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Metropolitan Opera. Other notable operatic engagements include Moralès (Carmen) and Hermann and Schlémil (Les Contes d'Hoffmann) at the Metropolitan Opera.

Cap'n Andy Hawks, owner of the show boat Cotton Blossom, will be portrayed by Tony Award-winning American actor Bill Irwin. Irwin's long and varied career as an actor and vaudevillian performer includes performances on and off Broadway of Waiting for Godot, with Steve Martin and Robin Williams; Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, for which he received the 2005 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play; as well as his original work Largely New York, which received five Tony nominations as well as Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and New York Dance and Performance awards. Other notable credits include films such as Rachel Getting Married, My Blue Heaven and Eight Men Out; television roles on Northern Exposure, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Sesame Street; and a featured performance in Bobby McFerrin's iconic music video for "Don't Worry, Be Happy" with Robin Williams. Well known to Bay Area audiences, Bill Irwin is an original member of the San Francisco-based Pickle Family Circus; has appeared as a guest artist with the ODC Dance Company; and regularly performs with American Conservatory Theatre, where his credits include Fool Moon, Scapin, Texts for Nothing and Endgame. The first performer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship, Irwin has also been the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Choreographer's Fellowship as well as Guggenheim and Fulbright Fellowships.

American actress Harriet Harris, well known for her television roles as Bebe Glazer on Frasier and Felicia Tillman on Desperate Housewives, will appear in the role of Parthy Ann Hawks. In addition to her television roles, Harris received a 2002 Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for her performance as Mrs. Meers in Thoroughly Modern Millie, the L.A. Stage Alliance Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for On the Town, and has appeared on Broadway in Cry-Baby, Old Acquaintance, The Man Who Came to Dinner, Present Laughter, and Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella. Harris's film credits include Memento, Monster-in-Law, Addams Family Values and Nurse Betty.

The ensemble cast is completed by American soprano Patricia Racette in her first performances of Julie LaVerne. Racette will also be appearing this summer season as Cio-Cio San in Puccini's Madama Butterfly, one of her highly praised signature roles. Morris Robinson, who appeared at San Francisco Opera as the Commendatore in 2011's Don Giovanni, brings his resonant bass voice to the role of Joe, interpreting the iconic song "Ol' Man River," and dramatic soprano Angela Renée Simpson is his wife Queenie-a role she triumphed in at Lyric Opera of Chicago and Washington National Opera. Simpson is also in demand for her portrayal of Serena in the Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, a role she has performed with San Francisco Opera, Paris' Opéra Comique, at the Styriarte Festival and with New York City Opera in their televised presentation for "Live from Lincoln Center."

American actress, singer and dancer Kirsten Wyatt joins the cast as Ellie Mae Chipley. Wyatt's numerous Broadway credits include the 2012 revival of Annie, the 2007 revival of Grease and the original Broadway productions of Elf-The Musical and High Fidelity. Broadway regular and television actor John Bolton performs the role of Frank Schultz. Bolton is best known for originating the role of The Old Man in A Christmas Story: The Musical on Broadway. Other Broadway credits include the original Broadway production of Curtains, Spamalot and Titanic as well as notable revivals of Damn Yankees and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. A fixture in the Bay Area cabaret circuit, Broadway singer and entertainer Sharon McNight makes her San Francisco Opera debut as Mrs. O'Brien, the Irish landlady. Among her many stage credits, McNight's portrayal of the Diva in Starmites on Broadway earned her a Tony Award nomination.

Maestro John DeMain, who last conducted San Francisco Opera's 2009 production of another music theater masterpiece, the Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, will lead the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus. DeMain also partnered with David Gockley to conduct the ground breaking 1982 production of Show Boat at Houston Grand Opera and was instrumental in recreating much of Jerome Kern's original score. Francesca Zambello's stunning production features choreography by Michele Lynch, sets by Peter Davison, costumes by Paul Tazewell, lighting design by Mark McCullough and sound design by Tod Nixon. This San Francisco Opera co-production premiered at Lyric Opera of Chicago in February 2012, and has subsequently been produced at Houston Grand Opera and Washington National Opera; these performances will reunite the original creative team.

This production will be recorded live in high-definition for future release on DVD and Blu-ray in partnership with EuroArts Music International and Naxos of America. The recording will follow the recent successful releases of San Francisco Opera productions of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer's Moby-Dick, Gaetano Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia and The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess by that label.

Sung in English with English supertitles, the ten performances of Show Boat are scheduled for June 1 (2 p.m.), June 3 (8 p.m.), June 10 (7:30 p.m.), June 13 (8 p.m.), June 19 (7:30 p.m.), June 22 (2 p.m.), June 26 (7:30 p.m.), June 28 (8 p.m.), July 1 (8 p.m.) and July 2 (7:30 p.m.), 2014.

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