Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

New season: SF Symphony & SF Opera


Music director Michael Tilson Thomas will lead the San Francisco Symphony's 100th season. (Photo: Courtesy SFS)
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After months of lazily selecting concerts and shows from a casual summertime menu, it's time to serious up, check the wardrobe for dressier duds, and get the calendar marked for a busy and exciting fall season. Single ticket sales have been available from the San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Symphony since July, and soon both corners of Grove and Van Ness will be alive with the sound of music.

If you want seats for the first-run casts at the SFO, better get cracking soon, and remember diva and divo devotees – there are some big name stars on the horizon. There's also a sense of urgency in getting to the box office (or online) at Davies Symphony Hall. The lights will be shining brighter than ever this season as the beloved SFS and Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas get the party started for the SFS' 100th birthday! In fitting celebration, they are offering an opening week of centennial festivities that will allow the entire city to participate.

On Wed., Sept. 7, the Opening Night Gala, Fanfare for a New Century, features international superstar Lang Lang playing the Liszt Piano Concerto No. 1, and his presence alone should thrill regular opening nighters, the music-lovers who only intermittently return during the rest of the season. I'm more pumped for violinist Itzhak Perlman's performance of the Mendelssohn Concerto, and MTT's predictably energetic romp through Copland's Billy the Kid Ballet Suite. The glamorous evening is rounded out with the droll inclusion of Benjamin Britten's charming Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra .

On the following day, the Maestro, Orchestra and Lang Lang will appear again, in front of City Hall for a free Noontime concert that features selections from the Gala program. It's all very San Francisco, and so is the traditional All-San Francisco Concert on Fri., Sept. 9 (same as the Opera's opening!). San Francisco social service and neighborhood organizations are invited to attend the concert as thanks for the work they do to serve the city.

Looking forward through the holiday season at Davies means a careful look at listening priorities. If star power attracts you, Yo-Yo Ma is appearing Sept. 14-17 with a delightfully offbeat choice of repertoire, Paul Hindemith's Cello Concerto 1940. Another big name with an equally big talent is violinist Joshua Bell, who arrives early in October to participate in the SFS' Project San Francisco with performances of the Glazunov Concerto.

MTT gets his own groove on throughout September with back-to-back weeks of composers close to his heart and temperament. There will be performances of Mahler's Third Symphony that manage to note the 100th anniversaries of both the composer's passing and the birth of the SFS. At month's end, fearless leader brings us his wonderful way with Stravinsky and a complete performance of the ballet Petrushka. Also on the bill is the SFS co-commission and West Coast premiere of Polaris by red-hot English composer, pianist and conductor Thomas Ades, in collaboration with video artist Tal Rosner. I'm thinking this should be a major event for listeners with a taste for modernity, but as an added inducement, the concert opens with Mozart's Symphony No. 35 Haffner .

If you like an operatic performance without the sets and costumes, Verdi's moving and massive Requiem is scheduled for October with the great mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick as one of the soloists standing before the SFS Chorus and beside conductor Fabio Luisi.

There are other notable conductors making their way to the podium as well, with James Conlon, Alan Gilbert of the New York Philharmonic, favorite Semyon Bychkov and Esa-Pekka Salonen (showcasing his own Violin Concerto), all scheduled through December. We'll let you make your 2011 choices now, but don't forget it's the centennial season, and the fabulous American Mavericks concerts are returning in March 2012.

Nights at the Opera

Over at the Opera House, staff and patrons alike are getting all worked up over the exceptionally enticing repertory for the fall season. There are some new mountings of accepted masterworks and a commissioned world premiere, but the revival of two gorgeous productions from fairly recent and long-ago memory also have us intrigued.

Of course, the big news is the world premiere of Heart of a Soldier, featuring iconic barihunk Thomas Hampson in an opera by composer Christopher Theofanidis and librettist Donna Di Novelli, based on the book by James B. Stewart and the life stories of Susan Rescorla, Rick Rescorla and Daniel J. Hill. The director is Francesca Zambello, following her nonstop career trajectory ridiculously soon after her amazing SFO Ring Cycle earlier in the summer. I'll have what she's drinking, please. The premiere of Heart of a Soldier coincides most fittingly with the eve of Sept. 11 memorials.

The opening-night opera and first in repertory is an altogether brighter affair, if you can overlook the bloodthirsty character of the titular heroine and just revel in the brassy pageantry of the music. A revival of artist David Hockney's riotously vivid sets and costumes for Puccini's last and unfinished opera Turandot is a good way to kick-start the season, and I can't wait to hear SFO Music Director Nicola Luisotti's take on the composer's sumptuous (and way over-the-top) score.

For sheer star attraction, Renee Fleming is the deserved diva du jour, and her appearances in the SFO premiere of Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia, Sept. 23-Oct. 11, will most likely sell every seat in the house. If you want to catch her at the peak of her powers – it would be best to get a move-on.

There are new production premieres of Mozart's Don Giovanni by director Gabriele Lavia and designer Alessandro Camera, and a new Teatro alla Scala co-production of Verdi's Attila. I can't get enough of Don Giovanni (arguably my No. 1 opera favorite), so I won't wonder too much at why we are getting a new production so soon after the last new production. I choose instead to marvel at the inclusion of Verdi's underrated Attila on the roster. Seriously, try it – I think you'll like it.

Also big on my list is the highly anticipated mounting of director Nicholas Hytner's justifiably renowned production of Handel's Xerxes, and the revival, after years in the attic, of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's beautifully realized Carmen . Hytner is one of my favorite directors today, and Ponnelle holds a very special place in memory. I will never forget the sun-bleached set of the bullring in the final act of his Carmen, nor the frantic gesturing of a horrified Micaela from the balcony of the corrida as her beloved Don Jose meets his murderous destiny. I can't wait to see it again, and hopping back and forth on Grove Street for the rest of the year is looking very invigorating.

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