San Francisco Opera Launches 95th Season with Opening Weekend Celebrations

San Francisco Opera Launches 95th Season with Opening Weekend CelebrationsSan Francisco Opera inaugurated its 95th season with a weekend of celebrations and performances beginning on Friday, September 8 with two galas-Opera Ball 2017 at The Imperial Palace and the BRAVO! CLUB Opening Night Gala-and a performance of Giacomo Puccini's Turandot in artist David Hockney's colorful production. At the opera's conclusion, San Francisco Opera Music Director Nicola Luisotti, who conducted the performance, was awarded the San Francisco Opera Medal.

Festivities continued on Saturday, September 9 with the premiere of a new production of Richard Strauss' Elektra by English director Keith Warner and starring soprano Christine Goerke as Elektra. On Saturday, September 10, the opening weekend festivities culminated in the free, annual Opera in the Park concert at Golden Gate Park, which attracted nearly 10,000 people who braved 95-degree heat for an afternoon of music performed by Maestro Luisotti, the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and the internationally acclaimed artists from the Company's Fall Season.

Opera Ball 2017 at The Imperial Palace, the season-opening gala presented by San Francisco Opera Guild and co-chaired by Courtney Labe and Maryam Muduroglu, kicked off the weekend. The 800 guests of the sold-out, black-tie affair began their celebrations with a cocktail reception in the foyer of the War Memorial Opera House before heading to an elegant dinner by McCalls Catering and Events in the Imperial Palace Pavilion tent on the north side of the Opera House. Designer J. Riccardo Benavides supplied an atmospheric setting within the Pavilion and around the War Memorial courtyard inspired by Puccini's opera and its setting in legendary Peking. Following dinner, guests promenaded back to the Opera House for Turandot, which featured Martina Serafin in the title role, Brian Jagde as Calaf, Toni Marie Palmertree as Liù and Raymond Aceto as Timur. Nicola Luisotti conducted the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus. The performance was followed by more celebrations and dancing in the Pavilion into the early morning hours.

BRAVO! CLUB, San Francisco Opera's group of young professionals dedicated to building a new audience for opera, also presented its annual Opening Night Gala. Beginning with a champagne reception on the Outdoor Loggia of the War Memorial Opera House, the BRAVO! gala concluded with post-performance festivities including dessert, hors d'oeuvres and dancing at the Green Room in the Veterans Building.

After nine years as San Francisco Opera Music Director, Maestro Luisotti, who steps down from his post at the completion of the 2017-18 season, was honored by San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Opera Guild on opening night. Banners acknowledging the Italian conductor were hung in the Opera House and Luisotti was feted after the performance in the Imperial Palace Pavilion as the official honoree of Opera Ball 2017. In acknowledgement of his distinguished tenure with the Company which includes more than 40 operas and concerts, Luisotti was awarded the San Francisco Opera Medal in an onstage presentation following the performance.

The presentation of San Francisco Opera's highest honor, the Opera Medal, to Nicola Luisotti was made by General Director Matthew Shilvock and General Director Emeritus David Gockley immediately after the performance from center stage with the cast and opening night audience in attendance. In his remarks, Gockley recalled the powerful impression made by Luisotti at his San Francisco Opera debut conducting Verdi's La Forza del Destino in 2005. "With the Company's historic connection with the Italian community of San Francisco, I immediately knew that Nicola was the right person to reestablish that connection and be our Music Director," said Gockley, "You surpassed all my hopes for what you might accomplish here."

Matthew Shilvock praised Luisotti's passionate commitment to music-making and the many memorable performances he has given with San Francisco Opera. "Nicola has raised the bar to tremendous heights and all of us have benefited immeasurably from his commitment to this Company and his devotion to musical excellence."

The Italian Maestro accepted the Opera Medal and offered a message of heartfelt thanks to the community and to the city of San Francisco which has been his home since 2009.

During his San Francisco Opera tenure, Luisotti has led more than 230 performances of a broad array of repertory from Verdi (La Forza del Destino, Il Trovatore, Otello, Aida, Attila, Rigoletto, Falstaff, La Traviata, Un Ballo in Maschera, Luisa Miller and Don Carlo) and Puccini (La Bohème, La Fanciulla del West, Madama Butterfly, Tosca and Turandot), to works by Bizet (Carmen), Boito (Mefistofele), Giordano (Andrea Chénier), Mozart (Le Nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, Così fan tutte), Strauss (Salome), Wagner (Lohengrin) and the 2015 world premiere of Marco Tutino's Two Women. Additionally, Luisotti led several concerts with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, including every Opera in the Park since 2009 and a special performance of Verdi's Messa Da Requiem in 2013 that united the orchestras and choruses of San Francisco Opera and Teatro di San Carlo of Naples on the stage of the War Memorial Opera House. Though 2017-18 is Luisotti's final season as music director, the Italian conductor is already scheduled to return in future seasons as a guest conductor.

Saturday, September 9 marked the return of Richard Strauss' Elektra to the Company's repertory for the first time in 20 years in a bold new production by English director Keith Warner. The intense, one-act opera was presented with what the San Francisco Chronicle called "a cast for the ages," featuring renowned soprano Christine Goerke in the title role, mezzo-soprano Michaela Martens in her role debut as Klytemnestra, soprano Adrianne Pieczonka as Chrysothemis and bass-baritone AlFRed Walker in his first performance with the Company as Orest. Hungarian conductor Henrik Nánási, also making his debut with the Company, led the 95-musician San Francisco Opera Orchestra, the largest orchestral assemblage required by any work in the Company's repertory. In her premiere United States engagement, acclaimed German director Anja Kühnhold stagEd Warner's production, which sets the action of the Greek tragedy within a contemporary museum.

This year's roster for Opera in the Park included sopranos Sarah Cambidge, Amina Edris, Aurelia Florian and Toni Marie Palmertree; mezzo-soprano Jill Grove; tenors Atalla Ayan, Brian Jagde, Pene Pati and Kyle van Schoonhoven; baritone Artur Ruci?ski; and bass-baritone AlFRed Walker performing arias and duets by Puccini, Verdi, Wagner, Bellini, Beethoven and Gounod along with traditional songs including "This little light of mine" and "The house I live in." The concert began with Maestro Luisotti conducting the overture to Verdi's Nabucco. A program with many highlights, the afternoon climaxed with a performance of "Nessun dorma" from Puccini's Turandot sung in a special arrangement for three tenors, which was followed by the traditional Opera in the Park closing encore of "Libiamo" from Verdi's La Traviata, performed by the entire group of soloists along with the audience. Matthew Shilvock, General Director of San Francisco Opera, served as master of ceremonies.

Opera in the Park, presented in partnership with the San Francisco Chronicle, is one of San Francisco's most cherished traditions. Established by former San Francisco Opera General Director Kurt Herbert Adler in 1971, the annual Opera in the Park free concert has included in past years opera legends from Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo to Beverly Sills and Marilyn Horne.

San Francisco Opera's 2017 Fall Season repertory includes Puccini's Turandot, Strauss' Elektra, Verdi's La Traviata, Massenet's Manon and the world premiere of John Adams' Girls of the Golden West. During the summer of 2018, Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen will be presented in three complete cycles in a production by Francesca Zambello and conducted by Donald Runnicles.

San Francisco Opera is sponsored, in part, by The Dolby Family, Ann and Gordon Getty, John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn, Burgess and Elizabeth Jamieson, Franklin and Catherine Johnson, Edmund W. and Jeannik Méquet Littlefield Fund, Steven M. Menzies, Bernard and Barbro Osher, Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem, Dianne and Tad Taube, Phyllis C. Wattis Endowment Funds, Diane B. Wilsey and Barbara A. Wolfe. San Francisco Opera is supported, in part, by a grant from Grants for the Arts.

Wells Fargo is San Francisco Opera's Season Sponsor. San Francisco Opera is proud to recognize its Corporate Partners: United Airlines, the Official Airline of San Francisco Opera, and Chevron, fueling Great Performances everywhere.

OperaVision, high-definition projection screens featured in the upper Balcony level, is made possible by the Koret/Taube Media Suite.

Yamaha is the official piano of San Francisco Opera. Pianos provided by Piedmont Piano Company.

Turandot is made possible, in part, by Opening Weekend Grand Sponsor Diane B. Wilsey. Additional support is provided by: John A. & Cynthia Fry Gunn; Bernard & Barbro Osher; Burgess & Elizabeth Jamieson; San Francisco Opera Guild; United Airlines; Jan Shrem & Maria Manetti Shrem, through the Conductors Fund and the Great Interpreters of Italian Opera Fund; and Joan & David Traitel, through the Great Singers Fund.

Elektra is made possible, in part, by: John A. & Cynthia Fry Gunn; and Joan & David Traitel, through the Great Singers Fund.

San Francisco Chronicle Presents Opera in the Park is made possible, in part, by Opening Weekend Grand Sponsor Diane B. Wilsey. Additional support provided by the William and Gretchen Kimball Fund. Corporate sponsor Kaiser Permanente. Media Sponsors are San Francisco Chronicle, Classical KDFC, KPIX 5, KBCW and San Francisco Classical Voice.

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