Courtesy photoBig show: The San Francisco Opera begins its 90th season with Verdi’s “Rigoletto

San Francisco Opera puts on a rousing ‘Rigoletto’

The San Francisco Opera’s 90th season opens Friday with a romantic crowd-pleaser so popular that General Director David Gockley has scheduled 12 performances.

The production of Verdi’s 1851 “Rigoletto,” a sweeping melodrama of love and betrayal, is a revival of a Michael Yeargan-designed work.

San Francisco Opera Music Director Nicola Luisotti (“who makes every Verdi opera he conducts into an event,” Gockley says) leads the orchestra.

Multiple casts — featuring both notable San Francisco debuts and alumni of the Merola and Adler training programs — appear. Željko Lucic and Marco Vratogna alternate in the title role;  Aleksandra Kurzak and Albina Shagimuratova, the Russian coloratura who recently made a sensational San Francisco Opera debut as Queen of the Night in “The Magic Flute,” alternate as Gilda.

Next, Sept. 29 through Oct. 19, is Bellini’s 1831 “The Capulets and the Montagues,” in a new co-production with Munich. The work highlights the bel canto vocalism of Joyce DiDonato and fellow cast members, including debuting artists Nicole Cabell (Giulietta) and Saimir Pirgu (Tebaldo). Riccardo Frizza conducts.

The local premiere of San Francisco composer Jake Heggie’s 2010 “Moby-Dick” (Oct. 10 through Nov. 2), from the classic Melville novel, comes from its Dallas world premiere, with conductor Patrick Summers and tenors Ben Heppner and Jay Hunter Morris in the role of Capt. Ahab.

Gockley calls attention to the “eye-popping multimedia production by Leonard Foglia,” which has received rave notices.

From Oct. 20 through Nov. 9 comes a controversial production of Wagner’s 1850 “Lohengrin,” in which director Daniel Slater updates the medieval story to a post-World War II communist dictatorship.

“Eurotrash it is not!” Gockley says. “The original production did not have a swan, an omission which I have corrected. Castwise, we’re looking forward to Brandon Jovanovich’s first Grail knight, and in the pit, Luisotti’s first Wagner.”

Closing the fall season, from Nov. 15 through Dec. 2, is Puccini’s beloved warhorse “Tosca.” Luisotti conducts 12 performances of the 1900 opera, featuring great stars Angela Gheorghiu and Patricia Racette in the title role. Massimo Giordano and Brian Jagde appear as Cavaradossi, and Roberto Frontali and Mark Delavan sing Scarpia.

In the superexpensive world of grand opera, the company is planning a $67.1 million budget, and Gockley is cautiously optimistic about working without a deficit for the first time in three years “if there is a 90 percent of capacity paid attendance and we raise a whopping $35 million in contributions.

“Success will depend on a combination of creative cost-cutting, full houses, increased annual contributions and a growing endowment,” he said. “We are loath to make further cuts in the number and quality of productions and pray that the depressed economy will continue to rebound.”

IF YOU GO

‘Rigoletto’

Presented by San Francisco Opera

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

When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Tuesday, Sept. 15, Sept. 18 and Sept. 21; 7:30 p.m. Sept. 12, Sept. 19 and Sept. 25; 2 p.m. Sept. 16, Sept. 23, Sept. 30

Tickets: $22 to $340

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

Note: The Sept. 15 performance will be simulcast in a free event at AT&T Park; visit www.sfopera.com/simulcast to register.

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