S.F. Opera’s 94th season reaches out to new opera-goers

San Francisco Opera will offer new productions — including a world premiere tailor-made to draw attendance from the Bay Area’s large Chinese-American community, as well as restaged presentations of standards geared to please all — when it ushers in its 94th season Sept. 9.

General Director David Gockley and Music Director Nicola Luisotti today announced the 2016-17 season, which kicks off with Giordano’s “Andrea Chénier,” a tale set during the French Revolution directed by Sir David McVicar, who directed SFO’s resplendent 2015 production of Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.”

“Andrea Chénier,” which promises to be an equally lavish period production, also marks company debuts of tenor Yonghoon Lee, soprano Anna Pirozzi and baritone George Gagnidze, whose introduction exemplifies Gockley’s penchant for bringing talented new faces to SFO.

“It’s always a balance, a nice balance to have a goodly number of debuting artists,” says Gockley, who retires in July, to be succeeded by Matthew Shilvock. “I think that there are a number of people looking for new names, new talent. But the most important thing has been to get the right person for the right assignment,” adds Gockley.

The world premiere of “Dream of the Red Chamber,” an English-language adaptation of a Chinese classic novel, opens Sept. 10. The opera, by Chinese-American composer Bright Sheng, co-librettist David Henry Hwang (“M. Butterfly”) and designed by Oscar-winner Tim Yip (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”), will have an all-Asian cast.

“It’s an adaption of a monster, literary monument,” Gockley says. “What I discovered in my researching of this subject is that there really is no Chinese or Chinese-American person who does not know about this subject in one medium or another. Clearly, the ‘Red Chamber’ would not have been pursued as a topic had it not been for the large Chinese-American community here that we want to make a difference with. That’s what opera does, it tells the story about a culture, and in this case it will be the Chinese culture.”

Another Asian-themed opera slated for the 2106-17 season is the Puccini favorite “Madama Butterfly,” opening Nov. 6, with soprano Lianna Haroutounian, (impressive in her 2014 company debut as Floria Tosca) as Cio-Cio-San.

Other revivals include Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” (not seen here since 1984), opening Sept. 28, Janáček’s “The Makropulos Case,” opening Oct. 14, and new stagings of Verdi’s “Aida,” opening Nov. 5. In 2017, the lineup includes Verdi’s “Rigoletto, opening May 31, Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” opening June 4, and Puccini’s “La Boheme,” opening June 10.

The production designer for “Aida,” Los-Angeles-based RETNA who is known for his street art, may attract younger audiences to the opera, even though he wasn’t tapped for the job specicially for that reason.

“My interest was piqued when I saw the hieroglyphics aspect of his art,” Gockley says. But it was not unknown or ignored by me that graffiti artists are known better by the younger generation. And this guy is a real cool cat. The Fine Arts Museums is considering a project with him that will help bridge the gap between the visual arts and the performing arts world.”

Opening in February, The Diane B. Wilsey Center’s Taube Atrium Theater will be the intimate setting for SF Opera Lab, which is presenting composer Ted Hearne’s innovative oratorio “The Source” (about Chelsea Manning, formerly Bradley Manning of Wikileaks fame), and Poulenc’s “La Voix Humaine,” coming to the stage in February and March 2017.

SF Opera Lab productions are part of the effort to attract younger audiences that include Opera in the Park (Sept. 11 in Golden Gate Park) and “The Future is Now: Adler Fellows Gala Concert” at the renovated Herbst Theatre on Dec. 2.

“The Ted Hearne is right up the alley of the new space,” Gockley says. “I think what we want to do with ‘La Voix Humaine’ is find ways to make it visually more interesting with younger people, in addition with the talent of (soprano Anna Caterina) Antonacci.”


San Francisco Opera 2016-17 season
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: Sept. 9 to July 2, 2017
Tickets: $26 to $397 for single seats (on sale June 27)
Contact: (415) 864-3330, www.sfopera.com
Note: Subscriptions, from $84 to $3,393, go on sale Jan. 11.

Andrea Chénier: Sept. 9-30
Dream of the Red Chamber: Sept. 10-29
Don Pasquale: Sept. 28-Oct. 15
The Makropulos Case: Oct. 14-29
Aida: Nov. 5-Dec. 6
Madama Butterfly: Nov. 6-Dec. 4

The Source: Feb. 24-March 3 (Opera Lab)
La Voix Humaine: March 11-17 (Opera Lab)
Rigoletto: May 31-July 1
Don Giovanni: June 4-30
La Boheme: June 10-July 2

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