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'Turandot' ushers San Francisco Opera into autumn

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Grand finale: Iréne Theorin sings the title role and Marco Berti is Calaf

If it be “Turandot,” let there be a surfeit of it.

Strangely, there was a sense of continuity between the San Francisco Opera’s summer-season “Ring” cycle and the fall season opening’s “Turandot” Friday night. Both times, the walls of the War Memorial Opera House shook with the power, not excessive volume — then it was Wagner, now Puccini. This San Francisco Opera Orchestra was whipped into a frenzy, then under the baton of Donald Runnicles, on Friday by Nicola Luisotti.

At this umpteenth revival of David Hockney’s color-saturated production, the air shook with Ian Robertson’s opera chorus riding the waves of Luisotti’s orchestra, and then, another surprise emerged. Marco Berti, former lyric tenor, gave the clarion calls of a true heldentenor, singing better than ever here.

How strange it was, though, after Berti’s evening-long star performance, to hear his mediocre “Nessun dorma,” the tired hit-parade aria, not receive any applause — a first in my opera-going experience.

Back to the “Ring” theme again: In the title role: Iréne Theorin, the Swedish Wagnerian soprano in her San Francisco debut, displayed another big voice, fitting well into the color and sound-impregnated evening, even though she often was mildly (but clearly) sharp.

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Among the many highlight moments was Adler Fellow Leah Crocetto’s wonderful appearance as Liu. She especially impressed with her Act 1 aria, singing with precision, feeling and restraint. Crocetto has the power to blow down the walls, and in her first important “hometown” role, she must have been tempted to sing big. Instead, she sang well, surpassingly so.

Rarely have I heard such a fine Ping-Pang-Pong trio as Hyung Yun, Greg Fedderly and Daniel Montenegro. It also was a joy to have an audible Emperor (Joseph Frank) and Timur (Raymond Aceto).

Garnett Bruce’s direction followed the original from the early 1990s closely, adding only some unpleasant bouncing in the chorus: Standing or crouching in ancient China is OK, but pretending to be on a trampoline is distracting.

Lengthy pre-curtain announcements included news of General Director David Gockley’s contract being extended by another five years and Jan I. Shrem and Maria Manetti Farrow’s $3 million donation to the company to promote Italian repertory.

If you go

Presented by San Francisco Opera

Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 22 and Oct. 4; 8 p.m. Saturday and  Oct. 1; 2 p.m. Sept. 25
Tickets: $24 to $288
Contact: (415) 864-3330, www.sfopera.com
Note: The production continues Nov. 18-25 with another cast

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