New productions, old favorites on tap for S.F. Opera 2008-09 season 

Drawn by a troika of reliable warhorses, each gussied up beyond routine cash cow-treatment, San Francisco Opera's next season offers a variety of attractions, including world and West Coast premieres, a total of 11 productions, seven of which are new to The City.

The box-office certainties in General Manager David Gockley's announcement today of the 2008-09 season are two ever-present Puccini operas: "La Boheme" and "Tosca," along with Verdi's "La Traviata."

But vive la différence: "La Boheme" (Nov. 16 through Dec. 7) features popular soprano Angela Gheorghiu and will be conducted by incoming SFO Music Director Nicola Luisotti; "Tosca" (June 2 through June 26, 2009) offers debuts by Adrianne Pieczonka in the title role, and of Lado Ataneli as Scarpia; and "La Traviata" (June 13 through July 5, 2009) signals the return of Anna Netrebko to the War Memorial, in a controversial Los Angeles production by Marta Domingo.

Running from Sept. 5 to July 5, 2009, the new season is Gockley's third, but the first that is completely his own, without prior arrangements or obligations. Gockley's interest in voices and "stars" is prompting re-engagement of some big names, in addition to local debuts for as many as 21 singers.

Among them: Inva Mula, the unforgettable "blue diva" of the movie "The Fifth Element," as Adina in Donizetti's "The Elixir of Love" (with tenor Ramón Vargas and the debuting Giorgio Caoduro and Alessandro Corbelli, from Oct. 29 through Nov. 26); and Emily Magee and Torsten Kerl in the nearly century-late San Francisco premiere of Erich Korngold's 1920 "Die tote Stadt" ("The Dead City"), running Sept. 23 through Oct. 12.

The season opens with Verdi's "Simon Boccanegra" with Dmitri Hvorostovsky in the title role and Barbara Frittoli making her debut here as Amelia.

As before, during 33 years in Houston, Gockley presents a world premiere every season; coming Sept. 13 is Stewart Wallace's "The Bonesetter's Daughter," to a libretto by Amy Tan, based on her novel about a San Francisco family's history in China and here.

The treasured 1999 John Copley production of Mozart's "Idomeneo" returns Oct. 15 through Oct. 31, conducted by Donald Runnicles, with Kurt Streit in the title role, Alice Coote as Idamante, and debuts by Genia Kühmeier (Ilia) and Iano Tamar (Elettra).

Mussorgsky's majestic "Boris Godunov" arrives Oct. 15 in a recent Geneva production, with Samuel Ramey in the title role, Vitalij Kowaljow, Vsevolod Grivnov and Vladimir Ognovenko in the cast; former Moscow Philharmonic music director Vassily Sinaisky is making his conducting debut.

Jake Heggie's "Three Decembers" (premiering next month in Houston as "Last Acts") with Frederica von Stade and Kristin Clayton, will have its West Coast premiere beginning Dec. 13, performed in the co-commissioning Cal Performances' Zellerbach Hall. That venue will also be used for recitals by Gheorghiu (Sept. 6) and Salvatore Licitra (Jan. 10, 2009).

Washington National Opera's new production, by Francesca Zambello, of Gershwins' "Porgy and Bess" is due next summer, opening June 9, 2009.

Unlike the constant rise of upper ticket prices everywhere, Gockley said SFO will have a discount of up to 30 percent on season tickets. Also, protecting the least affluent opera fans, the lowest ticket prices will remain at $15, and standing room at $10 — the price of a movie.

IF YOU GO

San Francisco Opera 2008-09 Season

When: Sept. 5, 2008 through July 5, 2009

Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco

Tickets: $10 to $275

Contact: (415) 864-3330 or www.sfopera.com

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