Composer John Adams, left, and librettist-director Peter Sellars are working on San Francisco Opera’s world premiere “Girls of the Golden West.” (Courtesy Scott Wall)

SF Opera’s 95th season: familiar stories, timeless motifs

San Francisco Opera will tell stories of humanity, individuals, society and mythical beings — from classics such as Wagner’s monumental “Der Ring des Nibelungen” to less heralded tales of Gold Rush California in the world premiere of John Adams’ “Girls of the Golden West” — when it unveils its 95th season on Sept. 8.

On Tuesday, general director Matthew Shilvock and music director Nicola Luisotti announced the 2017-18 season, which begins with a revival of Puccini’s popular fantasy “Turandot” (and showcases Asian themes highlighted last season with “Dream of the Red Chamber”) in two runs. Star sopranos Martina Serafin sings the title role in September; Nina Stemme takes it up in November and December.

“Turandot” launches a season-long tribute to Luisotti, who became director in 2009 and is stepping down at the end of the season. He conducts the first run of “Turandot” as well as a revival of Verdi’s “La Traviata.”

Shilvock, the opera’s seventh general director, paid tribute to his predecessor David Gockley (who planned the 2017-18 season) and said, “The greatest joy of opera is to illuminate who we are, both who we are as individuals and who we are as a society. Through ‘Girls of the Golden West’ and the Ring, we see that real impact of opera to influence the way we think about society.”

Directed by Peter Sellars, “Girls of the Golden West” is derived from period tales and other sources, many Hispanic and female, that describe the youthful energy — reflected in the opera’s young cast — and multiculturalism of the Gold Rush. But the opera also has a grim, nasty side, with stories that resonate in today’s political atmosphere.

“When white miners couldn’t find gold, they blamed Mexicans, Chinese and Native Americans,” Adams said at Tuesday’s announcement at the Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera in the Veterans Building. “And when the Gold Rush was publicized in Eastern newspapers, that was also like fake news.”

The psychologically complex nature of an individual is at the center of English director Keith Warner’s new production of Strauss’ chilling masterpiece “Elektra” — the first time in 20 years SFO has presented the work — which boasts a strong cast including soprano Christine Goerke in the title role and mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe as her mother Klytemnestra.

Massanet’s “Manon” is another eagerly awaited new production. It was previewed in a sense, by soprano Nadine Sierra and tenor Michael Fabiano, who wowed Gockley’s farewell gala audience in June with a sizzling kiss after a duet from the opera.

During the summer stand in 2018, SFO hosts a splendid international cast of Wagnerian vocalists in three full cycles of the Ring — “Das Rheingold,” “Die Walkure,” “Siegfried” and “Gotterdammerung.” The Francesca Zambello-directed acclaimed production, seen here in 2011, returns with new imagery and staging.

“The pursuit of gold in ‘Girls of the Golden West’ and in ‘Das Rheingold’ and how they destroy people are continuing tales that need to be told,” Zambello said. “We all have to do these monumental pieces about greed, desire and destruction of the environment.”

San Francisco Opera 2017-18 season
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: Sept. 8 to July 1, 2018
Tickets: $26 to $398 for single seats (on sale June 26)
Contact: (415) 864-3330,
Note: Half and full subscriptions, from $63 to $1,890, are on sale now; as are “Ring” cycle tickets, which range from $190 to $3,420.

Turandot: Sept. 8-30 and Nov. 18-Dec. 9
Elektra: Sept. 9-27
La Traviata: Sept. 23-Oct. 17
Manon: Nov. 4-22
Girls of the Golden West: Nov. 21-Dec. 10

Der Ring des Nibelungen: June 12-July 1

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