Opera summer season has star power 

San Francisco Opera’s summer season three-opera lineup has far more than hysterical opera queens cheering. Of course, it’s always easier to wax ecstatic about a production before it occurs, when all you have to go by are words and photos. But judging from the star power of the principals, advance tickets are in order.

The season begins Tuesday with a new co-production of Wagner’s "Das Rheingold," the first installment of Francesca Zambello’s complete American "Ring" cycle.

The multi-feted stage director, now SFO’s artistic adviser, has developed a uniquely American mythology for her "Ring" that will examine the consequences of human greed and lust for power at the expense of the natural world. (If that makes you think of a certain presidential administration and international corporate oligarchy, you’re on the money).

Most exciting are three role debuts: baritone Mark Delavan as Wotan, the luscious mezzo Jennifer Larmore as Fricka and tenor Stefan Margita as Loge. Less than exciting, for people with small bladders, is the opera’s two-and-a-half hour duration without intermission. Not even Donald Runnicles’ vigorous conducting can alter the reality that, for many, prep via dehydration is in order.

Thank goodness, more and more companies are staging Handel’s operas. The plots are sometimes convoluted if not downright preposterous, but the music is heavenly.

Starting June 15, bliss is guaranteed by the two stars of "Ariodante," favorite SFO mezzo Susan Graham and beloved soprano Ruth Ann Swenson (who, in celebration of her 25th anniversary with the company, receives the San Francisco Opera Medal at the closing performance on July 6).

Although illness precludes the SFO debut of the extraordinary contralto Ewa Podleœ in her stead we welcome the U.S. opera debut of Italian contralto Sonia Prina, who has already made her mark at Paris Opera, La Scala and Salzburg as well as on recording.

Thank you, David Gockley, for again lifting San Francisco Opera above the provincial by filling our stage with the world’s finest artists. Starting June 17, the great French lyric coloratura Natalie Dessay finally makes her San Francisco Opera debut in the title role of Donizetti’s great "Lucia di Lammermoor."

Playing her lover Edgardo is new-to-SFO tenor Giuseppe Filianoti, whose New York Metropolitan debut in the role was hailed as "sensational" by Opera News. If you want to see why opera lovers go nuts for Dessay, you and 14,999 other opera lovers can watch her go mad on in a big screen simulcast AT&T Park on June 20. Admission is free; register online at www.sfopera.com/giants, and don’t forget to bring your long johns.


Das Rheingold

Presented by San Francisco Opera

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

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Friday and June 14 and June 28; 7:30 p.m. June 19; 2 p.m. June 22

Tickets: $15 to $290

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

Note: "Ariodante" runs June 15 through July 6; "Lucia di Lammermoor" runs June 17 through July 5 at the War Memorial Opera House.

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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