Out There :: Operatic Offerings

  • by Roberto Friedman
  • Saturday January 16, 2016
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Its fall opera season is just recently behind us, and its summer opera season is yet to hit the boards, but this week San Francisco Opera announced its programming for the 2016-17 season that begins this coming September. The company's 94th season will be the inaugural year for new SFO general director Matthew Shilvock, although its repertory and casting were chosen by retiring SFO general director David Gockley .

The season kicks off on Sept. 9 with Umberto Giordano's "Andrea Chenier," featuring the SFO debuts of South Korean tenor Yonghoon Lee, Italian soprano Anna Pirozzi, Georgian baritone George Gagnidze and American mezzo-soprano J'nai Bridges. The co-production from London's Royal Opera House , directed by Sir David McVicar and conducted by SFO music director Nicola Luisotti, promises to be spectacular verismo.

Further highlights of the season include the world premiere of composer/co-librettist Bright Sheng's "Dream of the Red Chamber," an operatic treatment of Cao Xueqin's 18th-century Chinese novel setting an English-language text by co-librettist David Henry Hwang staged by Taiwanese director Stan Lai and designed by Tim Yip, featuring an all-Asian cast conducted by George Manahan (opens Sept. 10); L.A. graffiti artist RETNA as artistic designer for a new Francesca Zambello production of Verdi's "Aida" starring soprano Leah Crocetto, tenor Brian Jagde, mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk and baritone George Gagnidze, conducted by Luisotti (opens Nov. 5); and French director Laurent Pelly's production of Donizetti's "Don Pasquale" with the SFO debut of tenor Lawrence Brownlee, veteran bass Maurizio Muraro, soprano Heidi Stober and baritone Lucas Meachem, conducted by Giuseppe Finzi (opens Sept. 28). Also coming are revival presentations of Janacek's "The Makropulos Case," Verdi's "Rigoletto," Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" and "La Boheme," and a new staging of Mozart's "Don Giovanni."

SF Opera Lab, the newly formed producing division of SF Opera dedicated to innovative programming, launches its inaugural season this March in the new Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera in the Veterans Building. The winter/spring SF Opera Lab season will include a presentation of "The Source," composer Ted Hearne 's new oratorio about Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning), the US Army private who leaked thousands of classified military documents to WikiLeaks in 2010. The work for four singers and seven musicians features a libretto by Mark Doten that sets Manning's words and primary-source documents, including sections of the classified material known as the Iraq War Logs and the Afghan War Diary (opens Feb. 24, 2017).

Also coming from SF Opera Lab: "La Voix humaine," Poulenc's searing lyric tragedy (1959) with a text by Jean Cocteau, a one-act, one-character monologue about a woman who, rejected by her lover, engages in a farewell phone conversation with him. Sung by renowned Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci, accompanied by pianist Donald Sulzen (opens March 11, 2017).

Subscription tickets are now on sale: (415) 864-3330 or sfopera.com.

Prison Music

In a real-life underdog story, the male and female prisoners of Zomba Prison in Malawi scored a surprise coup by receiving a Grammy nomination for the Zomba Prison Project's album "I Have No Everything Here," produced by Grammy-winning music producer Ian Brennan. Alongside Titanic names of the World Music genre like Gilberto Gil, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Anoushka Shankar, and Angelique Kidjo, the prisoners are the sole unknowns in the category. Their record features the voices and songs of inmates from this maximum-security prison. A portion of its proceeds helps fund legal representation and other support. Since the Zomba Prison Project formed in 2013, three incarcerated women have gained release, and two more cases are now under review. The prison is overstuffed to nearly 10 times of its capacity, forcing inmates to sleep head-to-toe like sardines. Many of the prisoners are incarcerated for such dubious charges as "witchcraft" and homosexuality.

Though Malawi, named the #1 poorest country in the world last February by the World Bank, may seem far away, the antiquated laws of that nation are very real. They carry up to a 14-year sentence for homosexual acts. This is the first Grammy nomination ever for Malawi in the 58-year history of the awards, coming up this year on Feb. 15.

Finally, our favorite New York Times correction of the year to date: "Because of an editing error, a picture caption on Wednesday about a concert Laurie Anderson played for dogs in Times Square on Monday night referred incorrectly to dogs from the Homeland Security Department that were there. While their training led them to sniff people's bags, they were invited guests at the concert; they were not working." Understood.

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