San Francisco Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock Announces 2020–21 Season Repertory And Casting

By: Jan. 22, 2020
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San Francisco Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock Announces 2020–21 Season Repertory And Casting

San Francisco Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock today announced the Company's 98th season, which opens on September 11, 2020 with an Opening Night Celebration featuring soprano Albina Shagimuratova and tenor Pene Pati in concert with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra conducted by Music Director Designate Eun Sun Kim. Opening Night festivities include San Francisco Opera Guild's Opera Ball, BRAVO! CLUB's annual Opening Night Gala and two new events: the Opera Supper in the Veterans Building's elegant Green Room and, for the entire audience, a celebratory, post-concert toast to the season.

Highlights of the 2020-21 Season include: a new production of Beethoven's Fidelio conducted by Eun Sun Kim and directed by Matthew Ozawa taking place in the 250th anniversary year of the composer's birth; a new production of Così fan tutte, featuring a brilliant ensemble cast in director Michael Cavanagh's Mozart-Da Ponte trilogy; the West Coast premiere of Poul Ruders' The Handmaid's Tale starring Sasha Cooke in an English-language new co-production between San Francisco Opera and the Royal Danish Opera; Alexander Zemlinsky's rarely-staged Der Zwerg with Henrik Nánási on the podium and revivals of Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto, Giacomo Puccini's La Bohème with two casts and Gioachino Rossini's The Barber of Seville.

A special October presentation of Opera in the Park, the annual free concert in Golden Gate Park, will be headlined by soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, and a May concert will feature sopranos Lianna Haroutounian and Iréne Theorin performing selections by Verdi and Wagner with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra led by Henrik Nánási at the War Memorial Opera House.

Due to the replacement of seats in the Orchestra, Grand Tier and Dress Circle sections of the War Memorial Opera House-a collaboration between San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Ballet and San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center to improve patron comfort, sightlines and accessibility in the historic theater-the typically bifurcated fall and summer schedule will be adjusted in 2021 only, with performances taking place in April and May, rather than June and July. As a result, the Company will present seven mainstage operas along with several concerts from September 11-December 6, 2020 and from April 25-May 16, 2021. Installation of the new seats will begin in May 2021 and conclude in August. The opening gala performance of San Francisco Opera's subsequent 2021-22 Season on September 10, 2021 will be the first public opportunity for audiences to experience these seating upgrades.

General Director Matthew Shilvock said: "This is a season of thrilling story-telling on the War Memorial stage, and a season of some very special one-time events. In new productions of Fidelio, Così fan tutte and The Handmaid's Tale as well as the company premiere of Der Zwerg, we will experience people striving to overcome obstacles of society, yearning for the triumph of hope. As we prepare to replace the seats in the Opera House and introduce a new-format opening night, we are using this opportunity to showcase some extraordinary artists in concert, including a very special Opera in the Park. I am so excited for our first opening weekend with our new Music Director, Eun Sun Kim, with whom we are turning the Company's pages to a particularly amazing new chapter. This is a season of bold stories that reflect our world, of beautiful music making, and of human emotions writ large."

In what the New York Times called a "pathbreaking" appointment, Eun Sun Kim was named San Francisco Opera's Caroline H. Hume Music Director Designate last December. She formally assumes the role of Music Director on August 1, 2021. Kim made "a company debut of astonishing vibrancy and assurance" (San Francisco Chronicle) conducting Antonin Dvořák's Rusalka in June 2019.

2020-21 SEASON

FIDELIO by Ludwig van Beethoven

September 12-October 1, 2020

San Francisco Opera joins the global celebrations of Beethoven's 250th anniversary with a new production of the composer's only opera, Fidelio. Last presented by the Company in 2005, this monumental work of love and liberty triumphing over corruption returns in an insightful new staging by Matthew Ozawa. The American director, whose father was born in a Japanese American internment camp in Wyoming during World War II, places Beethoven's inspiring ode to freedom within a government holding facility.

Ozawa said, "Fidelio, Beethoven's only opera, is a shockingly relevant work that has served as a symbol of hope for generations of people afflicted by oppression and tyranny. At the heart of our story is a woman, a vision for the modern age, whose personal sacrifice to free her husband results in the liberation of all those imprisoned. What better way to embrace the opera's revolutionary history than to view the story through a modern lens, highlighting both our heroine as well as the global detention crisis through this production. My hope is that experiencing this opera not only helps us shine a light on injustice but reminds us that we too have the power to be agents of change."

Music Director Designate Eun Sun Kim conducts the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus. Kim said: "Fidelio is a key work in operatic history, like Monteverdi's Poppea, Mozart's Figaro and Wagner's Tristan. I'm so looking forward to working with all the forces of the house and a sensational, international cast to bring this new production to life."

Elza van den Heever heads the cast as Leonora, the hero who, disguised as a man in order to find her wrongfully imprisoned husband, infiltrates the detention facility. Since her 2007 San Francisco Opera debut as Donna Anna in Mozart's Don Giovanni while still a San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow, van den Heever has emerged as "one of the most important dramatic sopranos in the opera world" who is "justly celebrated for her fierce commitment to her characters, as well as for her gleaming, surpassingly flexible voice" (Opera News).

Tenor Simon O'Neill sings the role of Leonora's husband, Florestan. A noted interpreter of heroic roles, The Guardian said O'Neill's "vocal and physical presence never waivers" while The Baltimore Sun praised his Florestan with the National Symphony Orchestra for the artist's "affecting passion, not to mention laser-like articulation and a bright, theater-filling tone." Taking on the low-voiced roles in Beethoven's opera are a trio of extraordinary bass-baritones: Falk Struckmann is the corrupt Pizarro; Eric Owens portrays the head of the facility Rocco and Alfred Walker is Fernando, a government leader.

Built entirely in the Company's Bay Area scenery, costume and wig shops, the production features a rotating cube of cells, interrogation rooms and offices with video surveillance feeds showing the activities of detainees in all areas of the facility. The sets and projections are designed by Alexander V. Nichols, costumes are designed by Jessica Jahn and lighting design is by JAX Messenger. San Francisco Opera Chorus Director Ian Robertson leads the Opera Chorus for the work's famous Act I "Prisoner's Chorus" and the opera's final scene, two exhilarating moments comparable in hope and energy to the "Ode to Joy" in Beethoven's 9th Symphony.

RIGOLETTO by Giuseppe Verdi

September 13-October 4, 2020

An immediate success at its 1851 premiere in Venice, Rigoletto remains one of Giuseppe Verdi's most beloved and popular works for its memorable arias ("Caro nome" and "La donna è mobile"), multi-layered ensembles and turbulent intensity. Sir Mark Elder conducts this Italian classic of seduction, betrayal and vengeance in his first engagement with San Francisco Opera since making a triumphant 2015 Company debut leading Richard Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.

Georgian baritone George Gagnidze, who was applauded by the Financial Times for his "finely nuanced performance in the title role" at the Metropolitan Opera, heads an international cast. Pene Pati reprises the Duke of Mantua, a breakout role in 2017 for the Samoan-born tenor. Earlier this season, the San Francisco Chronicle praised Pati's "gleaming, sensuous stream of sound" and "magical, indescribable charisma that radiates beyond the footlights and compels you to pay attention to everything he does."

Armenian soprano Nina Minasyan makes her American operatic debut as Rigoletto's daughter, Gilda, a role she has performed at Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre, Opera Cologne, Opéra de Lyon and the Welsh National Opera. Bass-baritone Alfred Walker brings his "muscular, resonant voice" (San Francisco Examiner) to the role of the assassin Sparafucile, mezzo-soprano and former Adler Fellow Zanda Šv?"de reprises Maddalena and baritone Reginald Smith, Jr. is Monterone, whose curse on Rigoletto sets the tragedy in motion.

COSÌ FAN TUTTE by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

October 6-28, 2020

Così fan tutte follows two pairs of lovers whose affections become entangled as a playful bet becomes a crisis where the limits of loyalty and forgiveness are tested. Mozart's glorious score and Lorenzo Da Ponte's incisive libretto bring to life this experiment in love with striking intimacy.

San Francisco Opera's new production by director Michael Cavanagh is the second installment in the Company's trilogy set in the "Great American House of Mozart and Da Ponte." Part one of the trilogy, The Marriage of Figaro, was unveiled in 2019 and proclaimed by the San Francisco Chronicle "a splendid demonstration of how to present one of the funniest, sweetest, sexiest and most emotionally probing works in the operatic repertoire with all its treasures intact." Così fan tutte reunites the creative team of Cavanagh, set designer Erhard Rom, costume designer Constance Hoffman and lighting designer Jane Cox for an updated staging that brings the house forward in time to mid-1930s America. The structure has now become a country club at a time when the nation is struggling with economic strife and the winds of war are beginning to stir. A new production of Don Giovanni will complete the trilogy in the 2021-22 Season.

Italian conductor and music director of Liège's Royal Opéra de Wallonie Speranza Scappucci joins the Company to conduct this new production. Scappucci-who was the subject of Conducting a REVOLUTION, a 2018 documentary which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival-has won extensive praise for her work as both a conductor and a pianist, including numerous engagements at the Vienna State Opera.

Soprano Jennifer Davis makes her American debut as Fiordiligi and baritone John Chest, the acclaimed Billy Budd in Britten's opera with San Francisco Opera in 2019, portrays her lover, Guglielmo. Following performances in the Company's 2016 productions of Bizet's Carmen and Bright Sheng's Dream of the Red Chamber, mezzo-soprano Irene Roberts returns as Dorabella. Her beau, Ferrando, will be performed by Canadian tenor Frédéric Antoun, making his Company debut. Celebrated Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto instigates the lovers' wager as Don Alfonso, and Korean soprano Hera Hyesang Park debuts with the Company as the witty instigator, Despina.


October 29-November 22, 2020

Grammy-nominated Danish composer Poul Ruders' powerful adaptation of Margaret Atwood's landmark literary work The Handmaid's Tale receives its West Coast premiere in a new co-production with the Royal Danish Opera. The searingly dramatic two-act work, performed in librettist Paul Bently's English-language version, takes place in a dystopian American future where fertile women are forced into child-bearing servitude by a theocratic regime. Atwood's provocative vision of America in a post-democratic reign of terror has been a best-seller since its 1984 publication and, in recent years, its red-caped, white-hooded handmaids have become a symbol of resistance. The Testaments, Atwood's 2019 sequel to The Handmaid's Tale, was a winner of last year's Booker Prize.

Ruders' opera, which premiered in Copenhagen in 2000, followed a 1990 film adaptation and presaged by 15 years the current Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning Hulu TV series starring Elisabeth Moss. Hailed by Gramophone as "vividly imaginative" and conveying "a disturbing story with great drama and stylistic flair," the New York Times proclaimed Rouders' work "a brilliant, brutal opera, one that should be taken up widely."

Royal Danish Opera Artistic Director John Fulljames directs this new staging, which will be unveiled in Copenhagen in May 2020 before opening in San Francisco on October 29. Fulljames' creative team features set designer Chloe Lamford, costume designer Christina Cunningham, lighting designer Fabiana Piccioli and projection designer Will Duke, all making their San Francisco Opera debuts. Danish conductor Thomas Søndergård also makes his Company debut leading the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus in Ruders' spectacular score, which is punctuated by haunting references to the hymn "Amazing Grace."

Sasha Cooke stars as the handmaid Offred, who navigates her existence with determination and courage. The American mezzo-soprano has earned extensive praise for her artistic versatility. At the 2017 world premiere of Mason Bates and Mark Campbell's The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, the New York Times observed, "As always, the mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke is a beating heart onstage, a warm and sympathetic presence as Laurene." Cooke will be joined in this contemporary masterwork by mezzo-soprano Michaela Martens as Serena Joy, soprano Sarah Cambidge as Aunt Lydia and bass-baritone James Creswell as Offred's Commander.

LA BOHÈME by Giacomo Puccini

November 15-December 6, 2020

Puccini's popular work of love and loss among a group of bohemian artists in mid-19th-century Paris will be presented in director John Caird and designers David Farley and Michael James Clark's beloved 2014 production. The "elegant staging" (Mercury News) of this deeply moving story will be directed in revival by Shawna Lucey and feature two impressive casts under the musical leadership of former San Francisco Opera Music Director Nicola Luisotti.

Italian soprano Maria Agresta, whose performance as Mimì in Chicago last season was hailed by the Chicago Tribune as "radiant" and "whose sight and sound will not soon be forgotten," makes her San Francisco Opera debut in the same role. Tenor Michael Fabiano, who has portrayed the title role of Verdi's Don Carlo and Des Grieux in Massenet's Manon on the War Memorial Opera House stage, reprises Rodolfo. They will be joined by soprano Amina Edris as Musetta and baritone Artur Ruciński as Marcello.

The second cast of Bohemians in Puccini's opera is headed by Romanian soprano Aurelia Florian as Mimì and Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz reprising the role Rodolfo which he performed with the Company in 2017. American soprano Janai Brugger makes her debut with San Francisco Opera as Musetta and Anthony Clark Evans is Marcello. Bass Soloman Howard portrays Colline in all performances and bass-baritone Dale Travis plays the dual roles of Benoit and Alcindoro.


April 25-May 16, 2021

Rossini's timeless lyric comedy returns to the War Memorial Opera House stage in Emilio Sagi's buoyant, Spanish-themed production which the San Francisco Chronicle called "a winner" when it was first unveiled here in 2013. The sparkling coloratura, hilarious comedy and exuberant action of this Bel Canto classic will be helmed by conductor Roderick Cox in his Company debut.

Known for his onstage charisma and mellifluous baritone voice, Lucas Meachem reprises Figaro, the quick-witted jack of all trades whose entrance aria, "Largo al factotum," is one of opera's most recognizable for its humor and rapid-fire, tongue-twisting patter. Mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack returns to the role of Rosina, for which the Guardian praised her "dark tone and formidable coloratura" at her Covent Garden debut. Stephanie Lauricella, who made an acclaimed debut with San Francisco Opera in 2019 as Stéphano in Roméo et Juliette, sings Rosina in the final three performances.

Making his debut with the Company as Count Almaviva, South African tenor Levy Sekgapane brings his "ability not only to deliver both fiendish coloratura and stratospheric high notes flawlessly but also to give every appearance of enjoying himself in the process" (Financial Times). For the final three performances, Almaviva will be performed by star tenor Lawrence Brownlee in his long-awaited return to San Francisco Opera after making a sensational Company debut as Ernesto in Donizetti's Don Pasquale in 2016. Italian bass Maurizio Muraro is Doctor Bartolo, Korean bass Simon Lim joins the Company as Don Basilio and Catherine Cook reprises Berta.

DER ZWERG by Alexander Zemlinsky

April 27-May 15, 2021

Alexander Zemlinsky's rarely performed operatic adaptation of Oscar Wilde's "The Birthday of the Infanta" follows an outsider whose earnest affection for a princess leads to a heartbreaking rejection. Featuring a brilliant score that shimmers with sensuous and poignant musical textures and harmonies, an all-female chorus and a small cast of soloists, Der Zwerg is one of the Austrian composer's most extraordinary works. Premiered in 1922 in Cologne, the one-act opera was suppressed by German authorities before World War II and rescued from obscurity in recent times by musicians who believed in its beauty and powerful story.

For the Company premiere of this compelling work, Serbian American director Darko Tresnjak makes his Company debut directing his opulent production inspired by the paintings of Diego Velázquez. First unveiled at LA Opera in 2008 as part of the "Recovered Voices" initiative to reintroduce works by Jewish composers that were silenced by the Nazis, Opera News praised Tresnjak's staging for its "interpretive clarity, sureness of touch and eye for detail [which] made for an intensely exhilarating evening."

Hungarian conductor Henrik Nánási, whose previous San Francisco Opera engagements include critically acclaimed performances of Strauss' Elektra and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, takes to the podium to lead Zemlinsky's moving work. Heading the cast in the title role is rising American heldentenor Clay Hilley. OperaWire called Hilley "a heldentenor to keep an eye and ear out for" and Parterre Box praised his "secure, golden, seemingly effortless tone." Soprano Heidi Stober brings her "rock-solid security and diamantine sparkle" (The Telegraph) to the part of the Infanta. Canadian soprano and former San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow Sarah Cambidge, who "showed the outlines of a promising Wagnerian career to come in her fine, muscular performance" last season as the Foreign Princess in Rusalka, makes her role debut as Ghita.

Lianna Haroutounian and Iréne Theorin in Concert: A Celebration of Verdi and Wagner

May 2, 6 and 8, 2021

The spring season will be capped by a celebration of the music of Puccini, Verdi, Strauss and Wagner with two sensational vocal artists. Sopranos Lianna Haroutounian and Iréne Theorin, acclaimed interpreters of the great heroines of the Italian and German repertories, will command the stage in a special concert program on three nights. These dynamic artists will perform thrilling operatic highlights with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra conducted by Henrik Nánási.

Haroutounian first appeared on the War Memorial Opera House stage in 2014 in the title role of Puccini's Tosca. The Armenian soprano returned two years later as a "Butterfly for the ages" (Mercury News) and, in 2019, brought "expressive urgency" (San Francisco Chronicle) to her role debut as Manon Lescaut. Following a recent recital, the Chronicle said: "Haroutounian wasted little time in demonstrating that the same qualities that had made her appearances at the War Memorial Opera House so memorable - rich-hued vocal tone, expansive breath control, a knack for shaping a melodic phrase into something at once grand and intimate - were in play here as well."

Theorin also made her San Francisco Opera debut in one of Puccini's Italian masterpieces, portraying Turandot in 2011. She returned to the Company in 2018 in dramatic fashion, stepping in on short notice as Brünnhilde in acclaimed presentations of Wagner's Ring. Opera News observed Theorin's "vividly focused, articulate instrument was impressive throughout, and her portrayal was thrillingly heroic, melding emotional fragility, athletic grace, searing dramatic intelligence and unflagging stamina." The Chronicle called her performances throughout the cycle "vivid and indefatigable."

Opening Night Celebration Concert, Opera Ball, Opera Supper, BRAVO! CLUB Gala

September 11, 2020

The 2020-21 Season kicks off with a spectacular gala concert conducted by Music Director Designate Eun Sun Kim, featuring soprano Albina Shagimuratova and tenor Pene Pati. Hailed for their emotionally thrilling artistry and stratospheric high notes, these sensational artists will dazzle in an 80-minute program of virtuosic arias and passionate love duets spanning from Bellini to Broadway. There will be a celebratory post-concert toast to the season for the entire audience in the Opera House.

San Francisco's most glamorous party of the year, Opera Ball, will inaugurate the Company's 98th season. Presented by San Francisco Opera Guild and hosted by co-chairs Kim Dempster and Nafiseh Lindberg, the evening begins with cocktails in the Beaux-Arts lobby of the historic War Memorial Opera House followed by a sumptuous dinner, the opening night concert and the Opera Ball after-party.

New this year is the Opera Supper, where opening night audiences can celebrate in an intimate, black-tie-optional setting and enjoy cocktails on the balcony of the Veterans Building with sweeping views of City Hall before an opulent, seated dinner in the Green Room. Supper attendees then head next door to the Opera House for the concert followed by the Opera Ball after-party.

The BRAVO! CLUB's annual black-tie gala will toast the new opera season with pre-performance cocktails, the opening night concert and late-night dancing at the Opera Ball after-party. BRAVO! CLUB members meet other opera-loving, young professionals and enjoy ticket discounts throughout the year along with invitations to educational and social events.

The September 11 Opening Night Celebration concert is included in Full Series A and Out of Town Series 1 subscription packages. The concert may be added to other series packages. Tickets for Opera Ball, Opera Supper and the BRAVO! CLUB Gala include seating for the opening night concert. Proceeds from these events support education programs of San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Opera Guild.

Opera in the Park with Sondra Radvanovsky

October 18, 2020

The annual, free Opera in the Park concert will take place at Robin Williams Meadow in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park on Sunday, October 18 at 1:30 pm. Usually a part of opening weekend, this special October presentation of the popular event which draws thousands of music lovers will feature star soprano Sondra Radvanovsky and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra performing a series of electrifying arias and musical favorites.

2020-21 Season subscriptions go on sale to new and renewing subscribers on January 22 at 1 pm PST at the San Francisco Opera Box Office (301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco), by calling (415) 864-3330 and online at San Francisco Opera Box Office hours are Monday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Saturdays phone only except during performance season).


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