San Francisco Opera presents Giuseppe Verdi’s masterwork Otello, opening November 8 with six subsequent performances through December 2 at the War Memorial Opera House. Starring in the title role is South African tenor Johan Botha alongside Bulgarian soprano Zvetelina Vassileva as Desdemona and Italian baritone Marco Vratogna as Iago. This revival of the Lyric Opera of Chicago production by Sir Peter Hall is directed by Stephen Barlow and conducted by San Francisco Opera Music Director Nicola Luisotti.
Widely considered to be one of today’s preeminent interpreters of the role, Johan Botha makes his San Francisco Opera debut as the flawed warrior Otello, a role he has performed with the Metropolitan Opera, the Vienna State Opera and Frankfurt Opera. Praised by the New York Times for his “effortless power and clarion tone,” Botha has gained worldwide critical acclaim performing with opera companies such as the Royal Opera, Covent Garden and Milan’s La Scala and with symphony orchestras such as the Vienna Philharmonic, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Zvetelina Vassileva, who made her U.S. opera debut at San Francisco Opera in 1994 as Leonora in Il Trovatore and most recently appeared with the Company as Drusilla in L’Incoronazione di Poppea, sings the role of Otello’s faithful and falsely accused wife Desdemona. Vassileva has previously performed the role at Covent Garden and in her native Bulgaria at Sofia’s Bulgarian National Opera. Marco Vratogna makes his San Francisco Opera debut as the manipulative soldier Iago, a role he has performed at Frankfurt Opera, Hamburg Opera and Stuttgart State Opera.
Tenor Beau Gibson, a Merola Opera Program alumnus who made his Company debut in this season’s Salome, sings the role of Otello’s captain, Cassio. Appearing as Iago’s wife and Desdemona’s maid Emilia is mezzo-soprano and Adler Fellow Renée Tatum, who also sang in this season’s production of Salome. American bass Eric Halfvarson, who has performed more than fifteen roles with San Francisco Opera, sings Lodovico—a role he will soon reprise with Los Angeles Opera.
San Francisco Opera Music Director Nicola Luisotti conducts the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus. Luisotti’s “flexible and apt” interpretation of Verdi’s Il Trovatore was praised by the New York Times for “eliciting incisive, vibrantly etched playing from the orchestra.” This revival of the Lyric Opera of Chicago production, which was designed by John Gunter and originally directed by Sir Peter Hall, is directed by Australian opera director Stephen Barlow, who most recently directed the Company’s La Rondine in 2007. The San Francisco Opera Chorus is directed by Ian Robertson.
Considered by many to be one of Verdi’s greatest and most demanding operas, Otello is based on Shakespeare’s play of the same name. Arrigo Boito’s libretto tells the story of the great Moorish warrior Otello and his crippling jealousy over the imagined dalliances of his beautiful wife Desdemona. Otello’s ensign, the vengeful Iago, capitalizes on his leader’s weakness by rousing the general’s suspicion with false stories about Desdemona and Cassio. Otello’s obsession and mistrust of his wife eventually accomplish Iago’s murderous plans.
Sung in Italian with English supertitles, the seven performances of Otello are scheduled for November 8 (2 p.m.), November 13 (8 p.m.), November 17 (8 p.m.), November 21 (8 p.m.), November 25 (7:30 p.m.), November 29 (2 p.m.) and December 2 (7:30 p.m.), 2009.
Tickets and Information
Tickets for Otello range from $15 to $310 each and may be purchased online at sfopera.com or from the San Francisco Opera Box Office either in person or by phone at (415) 864-3330. Standing Room tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance; tickets are $10 each, cash only.
All performances will feature an informative Opera Talk by artistic and musical director of Berkeley Opera, Jonathan Khuner. Talks begin fifty-five minutes before each performance in the orchestra section of the War Memorial Opera House and are presented free of charge to patrons with tickets for the corresponding performance.
The War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue at Grove Street. Patrons are encouraged to use public transportation to attend San Francisco Opera performances. The War Memorial Opera House is within walking distance of the Civic Center BART station and near numerous bus lines, including 5, 21, 47, 49 and the F Market Street. For more public transportation information, visit bart.gov and sfmuni.com.
Casting, programs, schedules and ticket prices are subject to change. For further information about Salome and San Francisco Opera’s 2009-10 season, please visit sfopera.com.
South African tenor JOHAN BOTHA (Otello) makes his San Francisco Opera debut in a role he has performed with the Metropolitan Opera, the Vienna State Opera, and Frankfurt Opera. He has performed with the world’s premiere opera companies, including the Royal Opera, Covent Garden (Calaf in Turandot, Radames in Aida, Apollo in Daphne, the Kaiser in Die Frau ohne Schatten, Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos); the Metropolitan Opera (Walther in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, title role of Don Carlos, Radames, Max in Der Freischütz, Calaf, Florestan in Fidelio, title role of Lohengrin); the Vienna State Opera (Walther, Siegmund in Die Walküre, Cavaradossi in Tosca, Apollo, title role of Parsifal, Radames, Lohengrin, Turiddu in Cavalleria Rusticana, Florestan, Erik in Der Fliegende Holländer, Calaf, Canio in Pagliacci); Milan’s La Scala (Calaf, Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly); and Opera Australia (title role of Andrea Chenier), among many others. On the concert stage, Botha has appeared with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (London), London Symphony Orchestra, Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic, and in Barcelona, Dresden, Madrid, and Oslo.
Bulgarian soprano ZVETELINA VASSILEVA (Desdemona) made her U.S. opera debut with San Francisco Opera in 1994 as Leonora in Il Trovatore; she returned to the Company in 1995 as Gorislava (Ruslan and Lyudmila) and in 1998 as Drusilla (L’Incoronazione di Poppea). Career highlights include Leonora and Musetta (La Bohème) at the Metropolitan Opera; Amelia (Un Ballo in Maschera) with the Canadian Opera Company and Greek National Opera; Marenka (The Bartered Bride) with the Royal Opera, Covent Garden; Mimì (La Bohème) with Berlin’s Linden Opera; Tatyana (Eugene Onegin), Yaroslavna (Prince Igor), and the title role of Aida with Houston Grand Opera; Judith (Bluebeard’s Castle) at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels; and Nedda (Pagliacci) at Turin’s Teatro Regio, among many others. Winner of the 1992 International Tito Schipa Competition and 1993 Francesco Cilea Competition, Vassileva has performed a number of roles in her native Bulgaria at Sofia’s Bulgarian National Opera, including Leonora, Rosalinda (Die Fledermaus), Elisabetta (Don Carlo), Violetta (La Traviata), Micaëla (Carmen), and Desdemona, among others.
Italian baritone MARCO VRATOGNA (Iago) makes his San Francisco Opera debut in a role he has performed at Frankfurt Opera, Hamburg Opera, Stuttgart State Opera, and in Parma. Following his professional debut in 2000 as Stankar (Stiffelio) in Trieste, Vratogna has gone on to perform on the world’s greatest stages, including Paolo Albiani (Simon Boccanegra) at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice and in Cagliari; Count di Luna (Il Trovatore) at Stuttgart State Opera and in Seville; Giorgio (La Traviata) at Salerno’s Teatro Verdi; the title role of Macbeth at the Teatro Comunale in Modena; the title role of Nabucco at Frankfurt Opera, Florence’s Teatro Comunale, the Teatro Regio in Turin, and the Teatro Felice in Genoa; Tonio (Pagliacci) and Alfio (Cavalleria Rusticana) at Stuttgart State Opera; and Scarpia (Tosca) at the Vienna State Opera and Opera Company of Philadelphia. Recent and upcoming engagements include Renato (Un Ballo in Maschera) at Madrid’s Teatro Real; Paolo Albiani at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona and the Royal Opera, Covent Garden; Scarpia at Deutsche Oper Berlin; and Amonasro (Aida) at Bavarian State Opera and the Arena di Verona.
Mezzo-soprano RENÉE TATUM (Emilia) is a first-year Adler Fellow and alumna of the 2008 Merola Opera Program, where she performed the role of Nancy (Albert Herring). She made her Company debut earlier this year as Annina (La Traviata) and returned as Inez (Il Trovatore), a Novice (Suor Angelica), and a Slave (Salome). Recent engagements include the Secretary (The Consul) and Mercédès (Carmen) with Chautauqua Opera; Mercédès with New Orleans Opera; Omar (The Death of Klinghoffer), the Matchmaker (The Marriage), Ragonde (Le Comte Ory), and Mrs. Webb (Our Town) with the Juilliard Opera Center; the title role in the workshop of Amelia with Seattle Opera; and Bersi (Andrea Chénier) with Mobile Opera. Tatum is a two-time recipient of the Richard F. Gold Career Grant and winner of the 2008 Opera Index Competition, the 2008 Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation Competition, the 2007 Giulio Gari Foundation Competition, and the David Adams Art Song Competition.
Merola Opera Program alumnus BEAU GIBSON (Cassio) recently made his San Francisco Opera debut in this season’s Salome. Recent credits include the First Armored Man (Die Zauberflöte) and Froh (Das Rheingold), as well as covering the title role of Braunfel’s Die Vögel with Los Angeles Opera; Tamino (Die Zauberflöte), Edoardo (Un Giorno di Regno), and Brighella (Ariadne auf Naxos) with Wolf Trap Opera; and Beppe (Pagliacci), Bénédict (Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict), and the title role of Faust with Houston Grand Opera. An alumnus of the Houston Grand Opera Studio, his other roles with that company have included the Captain (Simon Boccanegra), the Messenger (Aida), Pásek (The Cunning Little Vixen), and Maintop (Billy Budd), among others; he was also the tenor soloist in the world premiere of the Christopher Theofanidis dramatic oratorio The Refuge. Upcoming engagements include Menaldo in Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten and Froh in the complete Der Ring des Nibelungen with Los Angeles Opera.
A native of Illinois, ERIC HALFVARSON (Lodovico) has sung more than fifteen roles with San Francisco Opera ranging from the Marquis de la Force (Diaolgues des Carmelites) to Fafner (Das Rheingold and Siegfried), Fasolt (Das Rheingold), and Hagen (Götterdämmerung) in the 1990 and 1999 Ring cycles; he was last seen as Landgraf Hermann (Tannhäuser) in 2007. Recent career highlights include Sparafucile (Rigoletto) at the Metropolitan Opera; Prince Gremin (Eugene Onegin), the Grand Inquisitor (Don Carlos), the Commendatore (Don Giovanni), and Ashby (La Fanciulla del West) at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden; King Marke (Tristan und Isolde), Lodovico, Fafner, and Hunding (Die Walküre) with Los Angeles Opera; Hagen with the Vienna State Opera; and Osmin (Die Entführung aus dem Serail) at the Teatro Real in Madrid. In demand throughout the U.S. and Europe, Halfvarson has also sung Tiresias (Oedipus Rex) at the Met; Alvise Badoero (La Gioconda), Sparafucile, and Hunding at Covent Garden; Pimen (Boris Godunov) at the Gran Teatre del Liceu; Baron Ochs (Der Rosenkavalier) at Finnish National Opera; and Hagen in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ring cycle. Future engagements include Daland (Der Fliegende Holländer) in Madrid and Fafner, Hunding, and Hagen in Los Angeles Opera’s upcoming presentation of Der Ring des Nibelungen.
Tenor DANIEL MONTENEGRO (Roderigo) makes his San Francisco Opera debut in this production. The Southern California native has performed a number of roles with Los Angeles Opera, including Gastone (La Traviata), El Dancaïro (Carmen), a Lover (Il Tabarro), Liberto (L’Incoronazione di Poppea), and Moreno (Torroba’s Luisa Fernanda); he also created the role of Maxamino Mendez in the world premiere of Lee Holridge’s Concierto para Mendez with that company. Other career higlights include the Steersman (Der Fliegende Holländer) with Portland Opera and Arizona Opera. As a resident artist with Minnesota Opera, Montenegro performed Tamino (Die Zauberflöte), Nick (The Handmaid’s Tale), Flavio (Norma), and Liverotto (Lucrezia Borgia). Upcoming engagements include the Shepherd (Oedipus Rex) at Australia’s Sydney Festival, a role he has also performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
JULIEN ROBBINS (Montano) made his San Francisco Opera debut in 1981 as Liberto (L’Incoronazione di Poppea) and returned later that season as Monterone (Rigoletto); he recently appeared this season as the First Nazarene in Salome. The American bass-baritone has sung more than fifty roles at the Metropolitan Opera in twenty-four consecutive seasons since his 1979 debut. Internationally, the Pennsylvania native has appeared in productions of Don Giovanni, Le Nozze di Figaro, La Bohème, Aida, Carmen, Trouble in Tahiti, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Otello, Le Comte Ory, and Un Ballo in Maschera with such companies as Milan’s La Scala, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Hamburg State Opera, and the Glyndebourne Festival, among many others. He is also a frequent guest of such U.S. companies as Lyric Opera of Chicago, Los Angeles Opera, Washington National Opera, and the Santa Fe Opera. Robbins has recorded Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy with Telarc, La Traviata with Deutsche Grammophon, and Salome for Sony Classical.
Baritone AUSTIN KNESS (Herald), a native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is a first-year Adler Fellow who sang Sciarrone (Tosca) and Marquis d’Obigny (La Traviata) with the Company this past summer and returned this season as Marco (Gianni Schicchi) and the Second Nazarene (Salome). An alumnus of the Merola Opera Program, he performed the title role in the Merola 2008 production of Don Giovanni. He has performed with Indiana University Opera Theater as Count Almaviva (Le Nozze di Figaro), Don Giovanni, Escamillo (Carmen), and Eddie Carbone (A View from the Bridge). Kness is a former member of the Des Moines Metropolitan Opera Apprentice Program (2006–07), where he performed the roles of Moralès (Carmen) and Count Ceprano (Rigoletto). The baritone has also sung the roles of Fiorello (Il Barbiere di Siviglia) and Moralès with Cedar Rapids Opera Theater.
Italian conductor NICOLA LUISOTTI leads four productions in his inaugural season as San Francisco Opera’s music director: Il Trovatore, Salome, Otello, and La Fanciulla del West. He made his Company debut in 2005 conducting La Forza del Destino and, following the announcement of his appointment as music director in 2007, he returned to San Francisco Opera in November 2008 for critically acclaimed performances of La Bohème. Maestro Luisotti has garnered enthusiastic praise from both audiences and critics for his work at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden (Turandot, Madama Butterfly, Il Trovatore); the Metropolitan Opera (La Bohème, Tosca); Paris Opera (La Traviata, Tosca); the Vienna State Opera (Simon Boccanegra); Genoa’s Teatro Carlo Felice (Un Ballo in Maschera, La Fanciulla del West, La Traviata, Simon Boccanegra, Il Viaggio a Reims); Venice’s La Fenice (Madama Butterfly); Munich’s Bavarian State Opera (Macbeth, Tosca); Frankfurt Opera (Il Trittico); Madrid’s Teatro Real (Il Trovatore, La Damnation de Faust); Los Angeles Opera (Carmen, Pagliacci); Toronto’s Canadian Opera Company (Un Ballo in Maschera); Seattle Opera (Macbeth); and in Tokyo’s Suntory Hall (Turandot, Tosca, La Bohème, and Don Giovanni). Upcoming opera engagements include Salome at Bologna’s Teatro Comunale, Così fan tutte in Suntory Hall, and Aida at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden. Equally at home on the concert stage, Maestro Luisotti serves as principal guest conductor of the Tokyo Symphony and has established growing relationships with the orchestras of London (Philharmonia Orchestra), Genoa, Budapest, Munich (Bavarian Radio Orchestra), and Rome (Santa Cecilia Orchestra), as well as the Berlin Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, and the Atlanta Symphony. His upcoming orchestral engagements include concerts with orchestras of Milan, Turin, and Frankfurt. The conductor’s expanding discography includes a complete recording of Stiffellio (Dynamic) with the orchestra of Trieste’s Teatro Verdi and the critically acclaimed Duets (Deutsche Grammophon), featuring Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazón. He is also on the podium of a DVD recording of the Met’s recent La Bohème, starring Angela Gheorghiu and Ramón Vargas (EMI).
A native of Melbourne, Australia, STEPHEN BARLOW (Director) made his San Francisco Opera debut in 2007 directing La Rondine. He studied music and drama at Melbourne University before moving to London before making his directorial debut with Trial by Jury at the Bow Street Magistrates’ Court at the Covent Garden Festival in London. Subsequent productions have included Dovetales (Glyndebourne Festival Opera), La Traviata (Singapore Lyric Opera), Tosca (Opera Holland Park, London), Carmen (Riverside Opera, London), the London premiere of Schubert’s Alfonso und Estrella (UCOpera), and Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens (Chelsea Theatre, London). He has also staged revivals of Madama Butterfly (Royal Opera, Covent Garden), Otello (Glyndebourne), and La Rondine (the Metropolitan Opera, Opéra Monte Carlo). As associate and assistant director he has worked on more than twenty productions for the Royal Opera, Covent Garden and the Glyndebourne Festival, including new productions of Idomeneo with Peter Sellars, Tosca and The Turn of the Screw with Jonathan Kent, and Elektra at the Kirov Opera in St Petersburg. Musical theater credits include Singing in the Rain and Anything Goes with Trevor Nunn at the Royal National Theatre and Jesus Christ Superstar with the Really Useful Group’s tour of the United Kingdom, for which he served as resident director.