SF Opera’s 97th season spans centuries

San Francisco Opera is staging eight operas spanning from Baroque through Romantic periods and into the contemporary era — including Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet” and the Bay Area premiere of Mason Bates’ high-tech biography “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs” — when it kicks off its 97th season on Sept. 6.

General director Matthew Shilvock today announced the 2019-20 productions, calling them a “shared exploration of human relationships and the bonds that connect us,” beginning opening night with “Romeo and Juliet.”

The opera returns to the War Memorial Opera House after a 31-year absence in Jean-Louis Grinda’s Italian Renaissance-set production.

“You do ‘Romeo and Juliet’ when you have an incredible pair in the leading roles, and Bryan Hymel and Nadine Sierra will catapult this piece in a very exciting way,” Shilvock says. “It’s such an extremely romantic score that Gounod has written, almost religious in its reverence for the love between the two characters as he goes through the iconic scenes of Shakespeare’s play, and so to be able to do that with Bryan and Nadine, both of whom have had such exciting presentations in this house, is a real treat for us.”

Britten’s “Billy Budd” is being revived for the first time in 15 years, in a Glyndebourne Festival production by the Tony Award-winning Michael Grandage. The all-male cast includes tenor William Burden, who played George Bailey in SFO’s holiday production of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” returns, staged in a new production by Michael Cavanagh (at the helm of SFO’s “Susannah,” “Nixon in China” and “Lucia di Lammermoor”), but with a U.S. setting.

It’s part of a multi-season Mozart trilogy called “The Great American House” in which “Figaro” is set in a mansion in Age of Enlightenment America; “Così fan tutte” (scheduled for 2020–21) takes place 150 years later, when the same house has become a country club in the 1930s; and “Don Giovanni” (in 2021-22) takes place in a shell of the house, as the characters “struggle to survive an anxious future.”

Shilvock calls the trilogy, with its “constant visual expression” and complementary creation of a meta-narrative, a “very exciting proposition.”

A revival of the Olivier Tambosi production of Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” features soprano Lianna Haroutounian and tenor Brian Jagde (house favorites) and the return of former music director Nicola Luisotti as SFO continues a transitional period before it names a new director to the post.

The fall concludes with a new co-production with London’s Royal Opera by Antony McDonald of Humperdinck’s English “Hansel and Gretel,” a family-friendly show designed to draw in young audiences and future subscription opera-goers. This season, for the first time, the opera is offering subscriptions that allow patrons to select their own minimum-of-four opera series. 

On the bill in summer 2020 is the José Maria Condemi-directed Lyric Opera of Chicago production of Verdi’s “Ernani”; a revival of Christopher Alden’s production of Handel’s “Partenope”; and the Bay Area unveiling of Bates’ and librettist Mark Campbell’s “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs,” a co-commission with Santa Fe Opera and Seattle Opera that premiered in Santa Fe in 2017.

“To be able to tell a story that is so deeply rooted in the iconic nature of the Bay Area is a real privilege,” Shilvock says of the season’s closer. “From the very beginning, I saw this as a piece that could connect the creative vitality of Silicon Valley with the creative vitality of this opera house. My hope is that the piece will really be exciting, not just because it’s about someone who is important to the Bay Area, but because it is a story about the Bay Area itself, a story that I think people will find very reflective of the community in which they are living.”

San Francisco Opera 2019-20 season
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: Sept. 6 to July 3, 2020
Tickets: Half and full subscriptions ($77 to $3,024) on sale now; single tickets on sale in summer 2019
Contact: (415) 864-3330, www.sfopera.com

Romeo and Juliet: Sept. 6-Oct.1
Billy Budd: Sept. 7-22
The Marriage of Figaro: Oct. 11-Nov. 1
Manon Lescaut: Nov. 8-26
Hansel and Gretel: Nov. 15-Dec. 7

Ernani: June 7-July 2
Partenope: June 12-27
The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs: June 20-July 3

James Ambroff-Tahan

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