Summer opera delights, thrills

You would expect the head of San Francisco Opera to be enthusiastic about the company’s summer programs, but there is nothing calculated or businesslike about David Gockley speaking of what’s coming in June. He is way into it, and justifiably proud of presenting a substantial repertory rather than the equivalent of summer pops.

Gockley — along with millions of opera lovers — has a special regard for Richard Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier,” which he describes as “a series of very human portraits,” Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s quirky, affectionate story of a love triangle in 18th century Vienna, speaking with timeless authority of passion and of the first encounter with a sense of mortality. The cast is spectacular. Two sopranos are alternating in the role of the Marschallin, both making their San Francisco debut: Finland’s Soile Isokoski and Martina Serafin from Vienna. Swedish soprano Miah Persson, the Sophie, is also making her debut. The Octavian, on the other hand, is the former Merolina Joyce DiDonato (1997), returning to the War Memorial from the apex of an international career.

Gockley makes a special point of “Donald in the pit,” as well he should: “Rosenkavalier” is one of the most “symphonic” of operas, in especially good hands with Music Director Donald Runnicles.

Runnicles will also conduct Mozart’s adventure- and drama-filled opera about the wicked Spanish nobleman whose little black book is filled with thousands of conquests, a man on his way to Hell, much to the delight of women … and men.

In the title role is Mariusz Kwiecien, a Polish baritone and one of the hottest young singers around. It is a co-production with Brussels’ La Monnaie; David McVica’sr design concentrates on the darker side of the opera, the setting represents a mass grave where Don Giovanni’s body is dumped after the Angel of Death has taken his soul — instead of the usual pyrotechnics. (Note: S.F. Opera recently announced that the 8 p.m. June 22 performance of “Don Giovanni” will be simulcast live, indoors, in Berkeley, Davis and Santa Rosa.)

Iphigenia is one of Greek mythology’s (and Euripides’) most tragic figures, daughter of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon (possibly the secret daughter of Theseus and Helen), sister of Elektra, Chrysothemis, and Orestes — a dysfunctional family in the extreme.

“Iphigenia in Aulis,” Gluck’s “sister opera,” may be better known, but “Tauris” — the composer’s final work — is just as magnificent. With another Merolina-become-world-star, Susan Graham (1987), in the title role, Bo Skovhus as Orestes, Paul Groves as Pylades and Mark S. Doss as Thoas, the production has a great cast. Patrick Summers conducts, returning from the Houston Grand Opera to his old company, where he rose from 1986 Merola apprentice coach to the company’s Principal Guest Conductor.

For tickets and more information, call (415) 864-3330 of visit www.sfopera.com.

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