Nixon in China. Photo by Tim Matheson/Vancouver Opera.
Nixon in China. Photo by Tim Matheson/Vancouver Opera.

San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley today revealed repertory plans, casting and productions for the 2011–12 Season, the Company’s 89th season. Nine operas will be presented: Heart of a Soldier, a world premiere commissioned on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attacks; three Company repertory premieres of Lucrezia Borgia, Xerxes and Nixon in China; two new San Francisco Opera production premieres—Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute; a new co-production of Attila with Teatro alla Scala; and Turandot and Carmen, revivals of two classic productions popular with San Francisco audiences.

Seventy-four opera performances will be presented at the War Memorial Opera House beginning Friday, September 9 with a gala opening of Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot.

“The Company’s 89th season offers a nice balance of repertory, with a healthy mix of debuting and returning artists,” said General Director David Gockley. “I am particularly pleased that despite these continuing hard financial times, seven of our nine productions will be new to the War Memorial Opera House stage.”

Throughout the season, San Francisco Opera will present some of the world’s leading singers including Renée Fleming, Francesco Meli and Vitalij Kowaljow (Lucrezia Borgia); Melody Moore, William Burden and Thomas Hampson (Heart of a Soldier); Susan Graham, David Daniels and Sonia Prina (Xerxes); Iréne Theorin and Marco Berti (Turandot); Lucas Meachem and Ellie Dehn (Don Giovanni); Kate Aldrich, Thiago Arancam and Paulo Szot (Carmen); Ferruccio Furlanetto, Oksana Dyka, Ramón Vargas, Quinn Kelsey and Samuel Ramey (Attila); Heidi Stober, Alek Shrader, Nathan Gunn, Albina Shagimuratova and Kristinn Sigmundsson (The Magic Flute); and Brian Mulligan, Maria Kanyova and Simon O’Neill (Nixon in China).

Renee Fleming as Lucrezia Borgia. Photo by Karin Cooper/Washington National Opera.
Renee Fleming as Lucrezia Borgia. Photo by Karin Cooper/Washington National Opera.

Conducting the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus will be Company Music Director Nicola Luisotti (Turandot, Don Giovanni, Carmen and Attila), Principal Guest Conductor Patrick Summers (Heart of a Soldier and Xerxes) and Assistant Music Director Giuseppe Finzi (Turandot and Carmen). Making their Company debuts are conductors Riccardo Frizza (Lucrezia Borgia), Rory Macdonald (The Magic Flute) and Lawrence Renes (Nixon in China). The San Francisco Opera Chorus is directed by Ian Robertson.

“I look forward to returning to San Francisco Opera for my third season and I am very happy to continue my association with this wonderful company,” commented Music Director Nicola Luisotti. “I have the great privilege of conducting Turandot, Don Giovanni, Carmen and Attila with wonderful international singers and the great San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus. The whole season is going to be very special with so much beautiful music, so many new productions, so many extraordinary singers and two fantastic concerts with the Orchestra.”

David Gockley. Photo by Terrence McCarthy.
David Gockley. Photo by Terrence McCarthy.

The creative teams featured in the 2011–12 Season comprise many of the most respected directors and designers in the field: San Francisco Opera Artistic Adviser Francesca Zambello and set designer Peter Davison (Heart of a Soldier); celebrated Italian film director Gabriele Lavia and designer Alessandro Camera (Don Giovanni and Attila); critically acclaimed English director and designer John Pascoe (Lucrezia Borgia); Olivier Award-winning film and stage director Nicholas Hytner, production designer David Fielding and revival director Michael Walling (Xerxes); Japanese-American ceramic artist and painter Jun Kaneko, production designer and director Harry Silverstein (The Magic Flute); the Company debuts of director Michael Cavanagh and designer Erhard Rom (Nixon in China); director Garnett Bruce and designer David Hockney (Turandot); and director Jose Maria Condemi in a production by the late director Jean-Pierre Ponnelle (Carmen).

The new season is also highlighted by two orchestral concerts showcasing the San Francisco Opera Orchestra led by Company Music Director Nicola Luisotti in co-presentations with Cal Performances at Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley on October 28, 2011 and June 3, 2012. In addition, a tribute concert Celebrating Frederica von Stade, the internationally acclaimed mezzo-soprano and one of the music world’s most beloved figures, is planned for the Herbst Theatre on December 3, 2011. Celebrating Frederica von Stade is presented in association with San Francisco Performances, Cal Performances, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

The 2011–12 Season features the Company debuts of many leading artists, including sopranos Oksana Dyka (Odabella/Attila), Serena Farnocchia (Donna Elvira/Don Giovanni), Susan Foster (Turandot/Turandot), Maria Kanyova (Pat Nixon/Nixon in China), Hye Jung Lee (Madame Mao Tse-tung/Nixon in China), Lisette Oropesa (Romilda/Xerxes), Albina Shagimuratova (The Queen of the Night/The Magic Flute) and Iréne Theorin (Turandot/Turandot); mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey (Zerlina/Don Giovanni); tenors Topi Lehtipuu (Don Ottavio/Don Giovanni), Francesco Meli (Gennaro/Lucrezia Borgia), Simon O’Neill (Mao Tse-tung/Nixon in China), Nathaniel Peake (Tamino/The Magic Flute) and Diego Torre (Foresto/Attila); baritones Paulo Szot (Escamillo/Carmen), Chen-Ye Yuan (Chou En-lai/Nixon in China) and Hyung Yun (Ping/Turandot); bass-baritone Wayne Tigges (Ariodates/Xerxes, Zuniga/Carmen); and basses Morris Robinson (The Commendatore/Don Giovanni) and Marco Vinco (Leporello/Don Giovanni).

Many acclaimed singers will be returning to the War Memorial Opera House, including sopranos Ellie Dehn (Donna Anna/Don Giovanni), Renée Fleming (Lucrezia Borgia/Lucrezia Borgia), Melody Moore (Susan Rescorla/Heart of a Soldier) and Heidi Stober (Atalanta/Xerxes, Pamina/The Magic Flute); mezzo-sopranos Kate Aldrich (Carmen/Carmen), Elizabeth DeShong (Maffio Orsini/Lucrezia Borgia), and Susan Graham (Xerxes/Xerxes); contralto Sonia Prina (Amastris/Xerxes); countertenor David Daniels (Arsamenes/Xerxes); tenors Thiago Arancam (Don José/Carmen), Marco Berti (Calaf/Turandot), William Burden (Daniel J. Hill/Heart of a Soldier), Greg Fedderly (Monostatos/The Magic Flute), Walter Fraccaro (Calaf/Turandot), Alek Shrader (Tamino/The Magic Flute) and Ramón Vargas (Foresto/Attila); baritones Nathan Gunn (Papageno/The Magic Flute), Thomas Hampson (Rick Rescorla/Heart of a Soldier), Quinn Kelsey (Ezio/Attila), Lucas Meachem (Don Giovanni/Don Giovanni) and Brian Mulligan (Richard Nixon/Nixon in China); bass-baritones Patrick Carfizzi (Henry Kissinger/Nixon in China), David Pittsinger (The Speaker/The Magic Flute) and Christian Van Horn (Timur/Turandot); and basses Raymond Aceto (Timur/Turandot), Ferruccio Furlanetto (Attila/Attila), Vitalij Kowaljow (Alfonso d’Este/Lucrezia Borgia), Samuel Ramey (Pope Leo I/Attila) and Kristinn Sigmundsson (Sarastro/The Magic Flute).

San Francisco OperaSAN FRANCISCO OPERA’S 2011–12 SEASON

Turandot—Giacomo Puccini
Puccini’s final masterpiece opens the season under the baton of Music Director Nicola Luisotti, who conducted this melodically rich, colorfully orchestrated work to great acclaim at London’s Royal Opera House in 2009. This passionate tale of a princess whose cruelty masks her fear of love features some of the composer’s most glorious music, including the stirring anthem “Nessun dorma.” It will be performed by an outstanding cast led by Swedish soprano Iréne Theorin, “the world’s reigning Turandot” (Opera Britannia), in her Company debut; Adler Fellow Leah Crocetto, an “outlandishly gifted soprano” (San Francisco Chronicle); and Marco Berti, “one of the preeminent Italian singers of his generation” ( The striking San Francisco Opera/Lyric Opera of Chicago co-production, featuring David Hockney’s dazzling sets and directed by Garnett Bruce, returns in November with an equally impressive ensemble led by American dramatic soprano Susan Foster and Italian tenor Walter Fraccaro.

Heart of a Soldier—Christopher Theofanidis and Donna Di Novelli
San Francisco Opera presents the world premiere of Heart of a Soldier, a new opera by composer Christopher Theofanidis with a libretto by Donna Di Novelli, based on the critically acclaimed non-fiction book of the same name by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist James B. Stewart and the life stories of Susan Rescorla, Rick Rescorla and Daniel J. Hill. A story of war, love, friendship and heroism, Heart of a Soldier reflects on the extraordinary true story of Rick Rescorla, a man trained to be a consummate soldier who gave up his own life saving thousands in the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001. Starring baritone Thomas Hampson (Rick Rescorla), tenor William Burden (Daniel J. Hill) and soprano Melody Moore (Susan Rescorla), Heart of a Soldier is directed by San Francisco Opera Artistic Adviser Francesca Zambello and conducted by San Francisco Opera Principal Guest Conductor Patrick Summers. The production team also includes set designer Peter J. Davison, costume designer Jess Goldstein, lighting designer Mark McCullough, projection designer S. Katy Tucker and movement director Rick Sordelet. Commissioned by San Francisco Opera, Heart of a Soldier will premiere on Saturday, September 10, 2011—the eve of the tenth anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks.

Lucrezia Borgia—Gaetano Donizetti
Soprano Renée Fleming, one of the most acclaimed artists and celebrated musical ambassadors of our time, returns to San Francisco Opera after an absence of ten years for the Company premiere of Donizetti’s melodically rich bel canto masterpiece. Borgia, a femme fatale renowned for her ruthless pursuit of power, reveals poignant vulnerability when she comes face to face with her long-lost son. Fleming, who sings this signature title role “with raw intensity and earthy richness, utterly inhabiting the character” (The New York Times), will be joined by mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong (Maffio Orsini), tenor Francesco Meli (Gennaro) and bass Vitalij Kowaljow (Alfonso d’Este), led by conductor Riccardo Frizza. This Washington National Opera production, created for Fleming, marks the Company directorial debut of John Pascoe.

Don Giovanni—Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Mozart’s bold, beguiling blend of comedy and drama tells the tale of a proud, predatory nobleman and the women who are drawn to him. Music Director Nicola Luisotti conducts a cast of exciting young singers led by former Adler Fellow Lucas Meachem, who starred asCount Almavivain last fall’s Le Nozze di Figaro, in the title role. Soprano Ellie Dehn, who made her Company debut last year as Countess Almaviva opposite Meachem, is Donna Anna. The cast also features the Company debuts of soprano Serena Farnocchia (Donna Elvira), mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey (Zerlina), tenor Topi Lehtipuu (Don Ottavio) and bass Marco Vinco (Leporello). Noted Italian film and theater director Gabriele Lavia makes his U.S. debut and set designer Alessandro Camera and costume designer Andrea Viotti make their Company debuts in this new San Francisco Opera production premiere.

Xerxes—George Frideric Handel
Widely acclaimed as one of the greatest Handel productions of our time, this visually stunning Olivier Award–winning staging by famed film and theater director Nicholas Hytner (The Madness of King George) marks the Company premiere of one of the greatest Baroque operas. Clever comedy is intertwined with tender poignancy in a tale of unrequited love and intrigue at a royal court. Patrick Summers leads an outstanding cast featuring mezzo-soprano Susan Graham (Xerxes), countertenor David Daniels (Arsamenes), soprano Lisette Oropesa (Romilda), soprano Heidi Stober (Atalanta), contralto Sonia Prina (Amastris) and bass-baritone Wayne Tigges (Ariodates). Michael Walling directs Hytner’s English National Opera production.

Carmen—Georges Bizet
Thrilling but dangerous, the captivating, capricious Carmen is one of the most vivid characters in all of opera. Mezzo-soprano Kate Aldrich stars in the title role in this classic San Francisco Opera production by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, conducted by Nicola Luisotti. Aldrich is “an impressive Carmen…who [brings] alluring physique and rich, healthy voice to this touchstone role” (The New York Times). Tenor Thiago Arancam, fresh from his success in last fall’s Cyrano de Bergerac, is Don José, the man who unwisely falls under Carmen’s spell. Baritone Paulo Szot, a Tony Award-winner for South Pacific and highly regarded for his role in the Metropolitan Opera’s recent production of The Nose, makes his Company debut as Escamillo. Jose Maria Condemi directs, and Assistant Music Director Giuseppe Finzi leads the final two performances.

Nixon in China—John Adams and Alice Goodman
John Adams’ rhythmically rich recreation of a presidential trip to Beijing has established itself as a great American opera and a work of “clarity, simplicity, shocking elegance” (The New York Times). A quarter-century after premiering at Houston Grand Opera under the leadership of David Gockley, this seminal work receives its long-awaited Bay Area stage premiere. In a Vancouver Opera production directed by Michael Cavanagh, the cast features Brian Mulligan, whose rich baritone thrilled audiences in San Francisco Opera’s Faust (2010) and Werther (2010), in the title role. The cast also includes Maria Kanyova (Pat Nixon), Simon O’Neill (Mao Tse-tung), Hye Jung Lee (Madame Mao Tse-tung), Chen-Ye Yuan (Chou En-lai) and Patrick Carfizzi (Henry Kissinger). Lawrence Renes, whose conducting of Adams’ Doctor Atomic won praise from London critics, will lead the San Francisco Opera Orchestra.

Attila—Giuseppe Verdi
In popular imagination, Attila the Hun was a ruthless barbarian, but to Giuseppe Verdi, he was a far more complex and compelling figure: a brave, ambitious warrior tormented by fierce internal doubts. This new San Francisco Opera/Teatro alla Scala co-production, which premieres in Italy in June 2011 led by Nicola Luisotti in his La Scala conducting debut, is staged by Gabriele Lavia with sets by Alessandro Camera and costumes by Andrea Viotti. The distinguished cast features legendary Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto in the title role; the Company debut of Ukranian soprano Oksana Dyka (Odabella); tenor Ramón Vargas (Foresto), in a role shared by Diego Torre for two performances; baritone Quinn Kelsey (Ezio) and renowned bass Samuel Ramey (Pope Leo I). Maestro Luisotti will also lead the San Francisco performances.

The Magic Flute—Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Endlessly inventive, charmingly fantastical and utterly unique, Mozart’s final opera is a profound yet lighthearted tale of romantic love, spiritual transcendence and the beguiling art of birdcatching. The internationally acclaimed ensemble cast is led by dynamic young conductor Rory Macdonald and includes lyric tenor and former Adler Fellow Alek Shrader as Tamino (shared with Nathaniel Peake for two performances), soprano Heidi Stober (Pamina), acclaimed baritone Nathan Gunn (Papageno), bass Kristinn Sigmundsson (Sarastro), and in the opera’s most virtuosic role, Russian soprano Albina Shagimuratova, who is “in demand everywhere as the Queen of the Night” (The New York Times). Sung in English, this new San Francisco Opera co-production is created by renowned Japanese-American visual artist Jun Kaneko and directed by Harry Silverstein.