Big changes for San Francisco Opera 'Claiborne' premiere

Just three weeks before its San Francisco Opera world premiere, mezzo soprano Dolora Zajick has withdrawn from “Dolores Claiborne.”

Cast in the title role of composer Tobias Picker's opera based on the 1992 book by Stephen King, the renowned singer is being replaced by soprano Patricia Racette and mezzo Catherine Cook.

In a statement released by the opera this week, Zajick said, “I am devastated that I am unable to continue my work. The opera proved to be more challenging physically and vocally than I had anticipated and, exacerbated by my knee problems, I feel it is best to withdraw at this point rather than try to push forward. I sincerely wish the cast, the incredible production team and Tobias good luck with the remaining rehearsals and the opening. I will miss being part of it.”

San Francisco Opera general director David Gockley, who commissioned the opera — which has been identified with Zajick's starring role in it — expressed regret about the singer's problems, and praised Racette for taking on the task in addition to her concurrent dual roles in Arrigo Boito's “Mefistofele.”

Gockley pointed out that Racette is familiar with Picker's works, having performed in his operas “Emmeline” and “An American Tragedy.”

Racette, a Merola Opera Program alumna who has sung with the San Francisco Opera since 1989, is undertaking the assignment although she has a different vocal range and timbre than Zajick. She will sing in the first four performances; Cook in the last two.

Cook — also a Merola alumna, as is Zajick — is a mezzo, and as the singer assigned to cover the role, has been in rehearsals since Aug. 9.

“Dolores Claiborne” has a libretto by J.D. McClatchy, and is based on the novel by King about a woman who, decades after the crime, confesses to killing her husband for molesting their 14-year-old daughter.

The cast also includes Elizabeth Futral, Susannah Biller, Wayne Tigges, Greg Fedderly and Joel Sorensen. In his company debut, George Manahan conducts the two-act opera, sung in English.

Dolores Claiborne

Presented by the San Francisco Opera

Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.

When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 18 and Sept. 25, 2 p.m. Sept. 22, 8 p.m. Sept. 28, Oct. 1 and Oct. 4

Tickets: $23 to $385

Contact: (415) 864-3330, www.sfopera.com

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