This happy trifecta may not have been a major issue in my fifth annual pre-season chat last week with SFO’s general director, Charles MacKay. But it’s a defining fact of the season, and it’s typical of the company’s current programming. MacKay comments, “I really can’t believe it’s been five years already. But when I look back to my first summer...” And the general director’s less-than-comfortable body language recalls that 2009 season, one that he’d had relatively little influence in putting together, with the Great Recession damaging arts funding everywhere.
When I asked him about 2013’s challenges, he didn’t hesitate. “Our season opener, Offenbach’s The Grand-Duchess of Gérolstein, makes huge demands. In the title role, Susan Graham is simply wonderful and funny and perfect. Emmanuel Villaume, our conductor, is a master of the French style. But it’s a very big show—production numbers, plenty of dancing, the works. And some of this year’s apprentices had never danced!”
An item that MacKay didn’t mention: The Grand-Duchess has a special history with the company. First produced in 1971, that sly operetta enjoyed three exhilarating revivals in the ‘70s, and those of us with long memories have certain expectations. Will that temps perdu be recaptured opening night?
We’ll know on June 28. Then, the following night, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro takes the stage in a revival from 2008. MacKay comments, “After a couple rehearsals, John Nelson, the conductor, suddenly appeared in my office. My first thought: something has gone very, very wrong. But Nelson was ecstatic. He’d never met a better cast. Age-appropriate. Perfectly prepared. Super Italian. Great voices. What more could we ask?”
Remember last year’s jaw-dropper, Rossini’s rarely heard Maometto II? Who doesn’t? More Rossini from that same inventive, ingenious Neapolitan period arrives on July 13. That would be La Donna del Lago, inspired by Sir Walter Scott’s narrative poem, starring super-mezzo Joyce DiDonato in the title role and the inspiring bel canto specialist, Lawrence Brownlee as the lovelorn king of Scotland. Expect kilts, plaids, stratospheric singing, and hope for elkhounds. Stephen Lord wields the baton.
Laurent Pelly’s lively 2009 production of Verdi’s La Traviata returns on July 20, with significant modifications. Most attendees, Pelly included, agreed that the second act as then staged just didn’t work. So he fixed it, he hopes. Leo Hussain leads a cast of SFO newcomers, with Brenda Rae as Violetta and Roland Wood as Germont making American debuts, and Michael Fabiano singing Alfredo.
That third super-mezzo, countertenor David Daniels, plays a Wilde card as the eponymous Oscar, in the world premiere of Morrison’s opera. An ambitious chronicle of Wilde’s decline and fall was devised by John Cox and the composer, introducing Walt Whitman (Dwayne Croft) as a sort of celestial MC. Wilde’s “Sphinx,” Ada Leverson, sung by Heidi Stober, and his would-be rescuer Frank Harris (William Burden) take significant roles, and a dancer, Reed Luplau, is Bosie. Up-and-comer Evan Rogister conducts.
A couple of birthdays need celebration this year: Wagner’s 200th and Britten’s centennial. Sumptuous soprano Christine Brewer does the honors on Aug. 4 at the Lensic with a recital of Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder and Britten’s Cabaret Songs, and the English composer’s chamber opera, Noye’s Fludde, gets a hearing Aug. 10 and 11 at O’Shaughnessy Hall on the SFO’s campus.
What, no Wagner stagings planned? Not this summer, anyway. But maybe it counts that MacKay’s desert-island opera is...Parsifal.
June 28-Aug. 24. 301
Opera Drive, 986-5900.
For schedule and ticket info click here