According to my calendar, the first events to mark the beginning of the 2015–16 season at the beginning of September will be held by the San Francisco Opera. This will mark the opening of SFO’s 93rd season. As in the past, this will be celebrated with the first performances of the first two operas in the Fall 2015 season, a variety of celebratory festivities, and a free concert to cap off a busy weekend.
Once again opening night will feature Music Director Nicola Luisotti enjoying his “sweet spot” as a skilled interpreter of the Italian repertoire. This year the season will begin with Giuseppe Verdi’s Luisa Miller, one of his most ambitious efforts to frame a tragic love story within the context of political corruption. The production will be a revival of the staging by Francesca Zambello that had been performed in September and October of 2000 with sets designed by Michael Yeargan. Laurie Feldman will serve as director. Writing as one who reactions to Verdi’s work tends to run both hot and cold, I have to confess that I was not prepared for the impact this opera had on me in 2000; and, while it predates Verdi’s partnerships with Arrigo Boito, which began in 1865 and led to some of his best work, it stands as one of his most perceptive engagements of music in the service of intense drama.
The title role will be sung by American soprano Leah Crocetto, and American tenor Michael Fabiano will be making his role debut the part of her beloved Rodolfo. Ukrainian baritone Vitaliy Bilyy will be making his SFO debut (as well as his role debut) as Luisa’s father. Also making his SFO debut (and role debut) will be Polish bass Rafał Siwek as Rodolfo’s father, Count Walter. The performance will also feature the SFO Chorus led by Ian Robertson.
Sung in Italian with English supertitles, Luisa Miller will be given six performances. The opening night performance will be on September 11 beginning at 8 p.m. The remaining performances will be at 7:30 p.m. on September 16, 19, 22, and 25 with a 2 p.m. matinee on September 27. Further information may be found at the event page of this production on the SFO Web site. Tickets are priced from $26 to $381 (subject to change) and may be purchased through that same event page. They may also be purchased at the SFO Box Office in the War Memorial Opera House (301 Van Ness Avenue at the northwest corner of Grove Street) or by calling 415-864-3330. The Box Office is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. It is open for telephone orders only on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Standing Room tickets go on sale for $10 (cash only) at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance.
The second opera production will be the SFO premiere of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. This was originally performed on Broadway in a production staged by Harold Prince, which opened in March of 1979. Stephen Sondheim wrote both music and lyrics with a book by Hugh Wheeler based on an adaptation of a play by Christopher Bond. As General Director of the Houston Grand Opera, David Gockley recognized that this work was as appropriate for an opera house as it was for a Broadway theater (if not more so); and he engaged Prince to direct the first “operatic” staging, which was performed in June of 1984. This included orchestrations for a larger instrumental ensemble by Jonathan Tunick.
This will be a new production, shared with the Théâtre de Châtelet in Paris (where it was first performed) and the Houston Grand Opera, staged by Lee Blakeley, who will be making his SFO debut. The title role will be sung by baritone Brian Mulligan, and Stephanie Blythe will sing the role of Todd’s “partner in crime,” Mrs. Lovett. (Any resemblance Mulligan may bear to Richard Nixon from his previous SFO performance in John Adam’s Nixon in China will be purely coincidental.) Tenor Elliot Madore will make his SFO debut in the role of the sailor Anthony Hope, paired with soprano Heidi Stober as his beloved Johanna. These will be role debuts for all of these vocalists. Patrick Summers will conduct all performances except for the last one on September 29, when James Lowe will make his debut in the SFO orchestra pit. Robertson will again prepare the SFO Chorus.
Sweeney Todd will be sung in English with English subtitles. It will be given seven performances at 7:30 p.m. on September 12, 15, 18, 23, 26, and 29 and at 2 p.m. on September 20. It has its own event page from which tickets may be purchased. All further information about tickets, including prices and Box Office hours, is the same as given above for Luisa Miller.
Keeping with past tradition, the 2015 Opera Ball will be held in conjunction with the opening night performance. This year the theme will be Moonlight & Music; and, in the spirit of Luisa Miller, designer J. Riccardo Benavides will create an evocative eighteenth-century Tyrolean setting. This year the venue will be a tented Opera Ball Pavilion on Grove Street between the War Memorial Opera House and Davies Symphony Hall. Festivities will begin at 5 p.m. with a cocktail reception in the War Memorial Opera House foyer, followed by an elegant dinner in the Opera Ball Pavilion designed by Executive Chef Josip Martinovic of McCalls Catering & Events beginning at 6 p.m. Following the performance, guests will be welcomed back to the Pavilion for cocktails, savories, sweets, and dancing to the music of The Bob Harwick Sound, a high-society band based in New York.
Only 850 patrons will be admitted to this year’s Opera Ball. Tickets tend to sell out very quickly, so the best way to check for availability will be to call 415-565-3204. Individual ticket prices are $1500, $2500, $5000, and $10,000; and tickets may also be purchased for a table of ten guests (but at no discount). (These prices do not include tickets for the opera performance.) The fair market value for each of these prices is $300; and the rest is tax-deductible. Additional information can be found in the PDF file of the order form.
There will also be an opening night gala for the members of BRAVO! CLUB, which was formed to encourage the community of young adults (between the ages of 21 and 40) to build a new audience for SFO. Annual membership is $60. This group has arranged a pre-performance champagne promenade at 6:30 p.m. on the Outdoor Loggia of the War Memorial Opera House, as well as a post-performance party with dessert, hors d’oeuvres, and dancing at Jardinière. The full BRAVO! CLUB package, including tickets, costs $250 for Balcony Front seating, $325 for Balcony Circle seating, and $425 for Dress Circle seating. There are also $195 tickets for Balcony Front and only the post-performance party. There is an event page with further information, from which tickets may be purchased.
Finally, the opening weekend of the season will conclude with San Francisco Chronicle Presents Opera in the Park. This is an annual tradition held in Golden Gate Park’s Sharon Meadow. The SFO Orchestra will be conducted by Maestro Luisotti, and General Director Gockley will serve as Master of Ceremonies. Vocalists will include stars from the Fall Season performing favorite arias. This event will begin at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, September 13. It is free and open to the public, and no tickets are required. Further information may be found on this concert’s event page.