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SF Symphony kicks off season with delightful divas, Reich tribute

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Susan Graham, Michael Tilson Thomas and Renée Fleming got the San Francisco Symphony’s 2016-17 season off to fine start. (Courtesy photo)

The San Francisco Symphony kicked off its 105th season — and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas’ 22nd with the band — with a festive, feel- good gala concert boasting the talents and comedy skills of opera stars and old pals Renée Fleming and Susan Graham.

On Wednesday at Davies Symphony Hall, the glamorous pair’s duet performance — well-honed after successful (and rare) “duo divas” appearances through the years — was charmingly delicious.

In a show filled with hits, their most crowd pleasing number was a tricked-out version of Irving Berlin’s “Anything You Can Do” from “Annie Get Your Gun” — with personalized lyrics and commentary (including news that Graham is getting married in just over week).

Fleming introduced it with the remark: “We won a contest (the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 1988) together that launched our careers; I think we’ve always wanted to sing this song.”

They were equally amusing as sisters Dorabella and Fiordiligi in “Ah guarda sorella” from Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte,” before hitting a more serious tone in the Flower Duet from Delibes’ “Lakme.”

In their solos, mezzo Graham was all fire and emotion in “Deh, per questo istante” from Mozart’s “La clemenza di Tito” and cruised on Gershwin’s dense, jazzy “Fascinating Rhythm.”

Fleming glowed on the brief “Ecco, respire appeana” from Cilea’s “Adriana Lecouvreur,” then, claiming needing equal time, followed with the not previously programmed Italian restaurant favorite “O mio babbino caro” from Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi.”

The concert opened with Rossini’s “William Tell” Overture played in its entirety; it’s a likely bet that patrons in the glitzy opening night party crowd weren’t necessarily familiar with the mellower opening sections of the piece preceding the charging finale of “Lone Ranger”-theme and cartoon fame.

MTT, calling himself fortunate to have the honor to work with musicians whose virtuosity is equal to that of a great repertory theater, also paid tribute to composer Steve Reich, who was in the house, and whose music is featured in season-opening concerts this weekend.

The orchestra played a rocking rendition of Reich’s 1986 “Three Movements” (which MTT said captures what it was like to be alive at the time). in a timely preview to Sunday’s program “Steve Reich: An American Maverick.” The 80th birthday celebration concert features guest artists including percussion students from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, guitarist Derek Johnson, the Kronos Quartet and the contemporary sextet Eighth Blackbird.


Steve Reich: An American Maverick
Presented by San Francisco Symphony
Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. Sept. 11
Tickets: $30 to $94
Contact: (415) 864-6000, www.sfsympony.org

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