S.F. selects ‘rising star’ to be musical director 

San Francisco Opera officials announced Tuesday at a news conference in the War Memorial Opera House that they have chosen 45-year-old "rising star" Nicola Luisotti to succeed Donald Runnicles as the company’s musical director.

The baby-faced Italian conductor, who got his first chance to conduct from his church choir when he was appointed its director at age 11, said he was immediately enthusiastic about working in San Francisco when Opera general manager David Gockley first approached him about it.

"It was like a dream," he said in softly accented English in an interview earlier this week.

Although he hasn’t yet built up the experience that a more seasoned hand might bring to the podium, Luisotti’s first foray onto the international stage was just five years ago in 2002.

But he has already conducted operas in some of the world’s leading venues, including Stuttgart, Paris, Toronto, Seattle, Los Angeles and New York.

Luisotti, like Houston Opera musical director Patrick Summers, who was rumored to be in line for the job until he signed a new six-year contract there in the fall, caught Gockley’s attention when Gockley headed the Houston company.

Though Luisotti has earned high praise so far in his career, his repertory is largely limited to Italian warhorses such as "Il Trovatore," "Tosca" and "La Forza del Destino."

His performances of the latter work inspired feverish adulation from Bay Area critics as well as audiences when he conducted it at San Francisco Opera in 2005.

Regarding San Francisco’s penchant for American and contemporary opera, however, the modest Tuscan from the village of Viareggio demurred.

"I know Italy a little better," he said, protesting that because he is still young, he is still learning. "I will discover American talent."

Luisotti’s engagement with San Francisco will start with the 2009-10 season.

Although he and his wife are renovating a house in Tuscany, he plans to spend five months a year in San Francisco.

He is unable to say much about the changes he might make or any new operatic paths he will investigate when he and Gockley program the first season, but he says he is ready for whatever they may be.

"The future is open and at the same time a little bit in shadow," he said.

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