Opera’s summer bonanza 

Don’t be fooled by San Francisco Opera’s folksy slogans touting the summer season:

  • “Sell Your Soul to the Devil?” for Gounod’s “Faust”
  • “The Original Spaghetti Western” for Puccini’s “The Girl of the Golden West”
  • “Take a Ride with a Valkyre” for Wagner’s “Die Walküre”

These are three great operas, including two new productions. All have world-class casts.

Famed Italian tenor Stefano Secco appears in the title role of “Faust,” courting, and eventually destroying, innocent, foolish Marguerite, a role sung by Patricia Racette.

The soprano, among the most accomplished of Merola Program/Adler Fellowship alumni, returns to the War Memorial after recent triumphs here in “Madama Butterfly” and the three heroines of “Il Trittico.”

Méphistophéles, the Devil, is another Merola/Adler product, bass John Relyea. Yet another Merola grad, Jose Maria Condemi, is the stage director, in Robert Perdziola’s production for the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Recent Merola/Adler Program participants Brian Mulligan, Daniela Mack, Catherine Cook and Austin Kness are also in the cast, while Maurizio Benini and Giuseppe Finzi take turns as conductors.

“La Fanciulla del West,” aka “Girl of the Golden West,” aka “Puccini’s American opera,” returns here after an absence of 31 years, a most “Italian-American” opera to a singularly Italian-American city. (San Francisco Opera was established in 1923 by Gaetano Merola and an all-Italian board of directors and contributors.)

Lorenzo Mariani, artistic director of Palermo’s Teatro Massimo — a Harvard University graduate who was was born in New York City’s Little Italy, where his father ran the Asti Restaurant, famed for both food and opera — created this new production for San Francisco.

San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley went to Palermo and invited Mariani and frequent collaborator, scenic designer Maurizio Balo, to head up the production.

San Francisco Opera Music Director Nicola Luisotti will conduct the work, both here and at the Metropolitan Opera in December, on the 100th anniversary of its world premiere there.

Another Merolina-turned-big-star, Deborah Voigt, sings a lead role, along with outstanding Swiss-Italian tenor Salvatore Licitra, in this Gold Rush story from the pen of San Francisco-born David Belasco.

“Die Walküre,” the second opera in Richard Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelung” rounds out the summer season, in anticipation of the entire “Ring” cycle, which will be onstage here in summer 2011.

Singing Wotan, head of the gods, again from Merola/Adler, is Mark Delavan, who sang “Flying Dutchman” with the San Francisco Symphony a few years ago.

Resisting invitations from European opera houses, acclaimed German soprano Nina Stemme makes her role debut here as Brünnhilde.

She chose to sing her debut with Donald Runnicles, former music director here, now with Berlin’s Deutsche Oper. Runnicles also will conduct the entire “Ring” as he has on previous occasions in the War Memorial since 1990.

Director Francesca Zambello’s “American ‘Ring,’” on Michael Yeargan’s sets, has been toned down somewhat since the opening of “Das Rhinegold” two years ago.

It’s no longer called “American,” although the Valkyries — mostly homegrown singers, including Molly Fillmore, Suzanne Hendrix, Daveda Karanas, Wendy Bryn Harmer, Tamara Wapinsky, Maya Lahyani, Pamela Dillard and Priti Gandhi — are still parachuting in. Also, instead of Walhalla, some Wall Street skyscrapers serve as background for the action.

Expect a special treat from Eva-Maria Westbroek as Sieglinde, Christopher Ventris as Siegmund, Janina Baechle as Fricka and Raymond Aceto as Hunding.

San Francisco Opera summer season

War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
When: “Faust” from June 5-July 1; “The Girl of the Golden West” from June 9-July 2; “Die Walküre” from June 10-30
Tickets: $25 to $360
Contact: (415) 864-3330, www.sfopera.com

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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