San Francisco Opera survives and thrives 

Ask San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley what is new about the upcoming season and he answers that it is the fact there is a season at all.

Under pressure from the continuing negative impact of the recession, Gockley is fighting to uphold the opera’s tradition of varied repertory, new works and world-renowned singers.

The 2011-12 season, announced today, offers the world premiere of “Heart of a Soldier” — with music by Christopher Theofanidis and libretto by Donna Di Novelli, featuring Thomas Hampson — along with company premieres of Donizetti’s “Lucrezia Borgia” with Renée Fleming and Francesco Meli and Handel’s “Xerxes” with Susan Graham and David Daniels.

Another opera receiving its local premiere is John Adams’ “Nixon in China” with Brian Mulligan, which had its world premiere in 1987 at the Houston Grand Opera when Gockley headed that company.

“Despite these continuing hard financial times, seven of our nine productions for the 89th season will be new to the War Memorial Opera House stage,” says Gockley, who, having completed preparations for the 2011-12 announcement, is now in Houston for the birth of his first grandchild.

Productions new to San Francisco include Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” designed by Jun Kaneko, and Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” with Lucas Meachem and Ellie Dehn and directed by Gabriele Lavia and designed by Alessandro Camera. The Teatro alla Scala co-production of Verdi’s “Attila,” with Ferruccio Furlanetto in the title role, also will be new to The City.

Cash-cow revivals of David Hockney’s production of Puccini’s “Turandot” featuring Iréne Theorin and Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s production of Bizet’s “Carmen” — with Kate Aldrich, Thiago Arancam and Paulo Szot — also are programmed. “Turandot” opens the season, accompanied by the annual gala Sept. 9.

Among special events is a long-awaited tribute concert celebrating Frederica von Stade in Herbst Theatre on Dec. 3. The program is co-presented by the opera and San Francisco Performances, Cal Performances, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

The opera orchestra, led by music director Nicola Luisotti, will give concerts in UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall on Oct. 28 and June 3, 2012.

Luisotti will conduct four productions — “Don Giovanni,” “Carmen,” “Attila” and “Turandot,” shared with Giuseppe Finzi — and Patrick Summers will lead two, “Heart of a Soldier” and “Xerxes.”

The schedule features company debuts by three young conductors — Riccardo Frizza, 39, of Italy will conduct “Lucrezia Borgia”; Lawrence Renes, 40, of Holland will lead “Nixon in China”; and Rory Macdonald, 39, of Holland will lead “The Magic Flute.”

On a projected $70 million budget, the company is offering 52 performances in fall and 22 in summer, which adds up to selling approximately 240,000 tickets in the 3,146-seat opera house.

Even if every performance reaches standing-room-only ticket sales — an impossible expectation — the estimated revenue still would not cover half the operating budget. To continue finding donations in bad, or uncertain, economic times remains the biggest challenge for the opera, which maintains high standards producing this most expensive art genre.


San Francisco Opera 2011-12

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

When: Sept. 9 through July 8, 2012

Tickets: $160 to $2,882 for full season, available now

Contact: (415) 864-3330,

Note: Single tickets, from $21 to $330, go on sale in July

San Francisco Opera 89th Season

Fall 2011

  • “Turandot” (Puccini): Sept. 9-Oct. 4 and Nov. 18-25
  • “Heart of a Soldier” (Theofanidis): Sept. 10-30
  • “Lucrezia Borgia” (Donizetti): Sept. 23-Oct. 11
  • “Don Giovanni” (Mozart): Oct. 15-Nov. 10
  • “Xerxes” (Handel): Oct. 30-Nov. 19
  • “Carmen” (Bizet): Nov. 6-Dec. 4

Summer 2012

  • “Nixon in China” (Adams): June 8-July 3
  • “Attila” (Verdi): June 12-July 1
  • “The Magic Flute” (Mozart): June 13-July 8

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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