With megawatts of renewable energy, the San Francisco Opera orchestra and chorus gave a memorably robust performance on the company's 90th season opening Friday.
S.F. Opera Music Director Nicola Luisotti and Chorus Director Ian Robertson led their respective forces in a powerful, rhythmically exciting "Rigoletto," the men's chorus singing with the gusto of a glee club responding to a touchdown.
The music – some of Verdi's most familiar and beloved melodies – swept over the packed War Memorial Opera House audience, at times vying with the opening-night hubbub.
Then, in an unprecedented repetition of the same opera on opening weekend, it happened again the next evening, with different principals, without the gala hoopla, but with the same, focused musical intensity.
“Rigoletto’s” closely spaced run of 12 performances requires a rotation of singers; the arrangement will be repeated later this fall for Puccini's "Tosca."
Opening night featured Serbian baritone Željko Lucic in the title role and Aleksandra Kurzak as Gilda; they appear again on Sept. 11, Sept. 15, Sept. 18 and Sept. 21. Their counterparts are Marco Vratogna and Albina Shagimuratova.
As Rigoletto, both Lucic and Vratogna were impressive. Lucic, considered one of the finest in the role, has a beautiful voice and exhibits exemplary use of legato, connecting notes seamlessly. His acting opening night was on-and-off, at times unconvincing – to the point of forgetting his hump, an important part of the story.
Vratogna, in his role debut here, but well remembered for his Iago in "Otello," combined ferocious acting and singing.
As Gilda, Kurzak received audience acclaim in her San Francisco debut.
But Shagimuratova, who sang a remarkable Queen of the Night in "The Magic Flute" earlier this year, was my favorite. She projects spectacularly, as few singers can. Her bright, rich voice filled the huge War Memorial in a seemingly effortless performance; she even sang her big, challenging aria "Caro nome" reclining on her back. "When you've got it, flaunt it," said the gesture.
Tenors Francesco Demuro and Arturo Chacón-Cruz, a Merola alumnus, alternated as the handsome, evil Duke. Both sang well, but Chacón-Cruz was the more convincing actor.
In all performances, the great bass Andrea Silvestrelli sang a killer Sparafucile.
Famed Broadway and opera designer Michael Yeargan's "Rigoletto" sets, here for the fourth time since 1997, evoked Giorgio De Chirico paintings, with stark, bizarrely raked shells of buildings, bathed in strange, clashing-colored lighting.
Constance Hoffman's costumes were spectacular, but perhaps too buttoned-up for the opera's orgies. Director Harry Silverstein's crowd management could give "wooden" a bad name.
Presented by San Francisco Opera
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Sept. 11, 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.