Music marvels: San Francisco Opera's scintillating summer selections

  • by Philip Campbell
  • Tuesday May 28, 2024
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Christina Gansch and Lauri Vasar in Mozart's 'The Magic Flute' (photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera)
Christina Gansch and Lauri Vasar in Mozart's 'The Magic Flute' (photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera)

San Francisco Opera's 101st season continues post-Memorial Day with three productions starting May 30 and playing in repertory through June 30. A new to San Francisco imagining of a Mozart evergreen; the return of a baroque hit, and a major American premiere keep the lights burning at the War Memorial Opera House this summer.

Mozart's 'The Magic Flute' (photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera)  

The Magic Flute
Music Director Eun Sun Kim takes the podium May 30 to conduct Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's beloved singspiel "The Magic Flute." Funny, philosophical and brimming with memorable tunes, Mozart and Emanuel Schikaneder's spoken and sung confection is presented with a new visual twist.
Director Tobias Ribitski revives Barrie Kosky and Suzanne Andrade's production for the Komische Oper Berlin. Influenced by early animation, silent film and 1920s cabaret, the show looks spectacularly entertaining.

New Zealand-Samoan tenor Amitai Pati, Austrian soprano Christina Gansch and, in their SFO debuts, Estonian bass-baritone Lauri Vasar, South Korean bass Kwangchul Youn and Polish soprano Anna SimiƄska as the Queen of the Night make up an internationally diverse cast.

The Wednesday, June 26 performance marks the Company's annual Pride Night at the Opera celebration in anticipation of Pride weekend in San Francisco. May 30-June 30.

Lilian Farahani, Miles Mykkanen, Claire de Sévigné and Rod Gilfry in 'Innocence' (photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera)  

An American premiere of timely importance; the late Kaija Saariaho's "Innocence," her final opera, with a Finnish libretto by Sofi Oksanen, multilingual libretto and dramaturgy by Aleksi Barrière joins the summer repertory.

A San Francisco Opera co-commission, "Innocence" has already earned unanimous praise in Aix-en-Provence, Helsinki, Amsterdam and London since its world premiere in 2021. Conductor Clément Mao-Takacs makes his company debut. Louise Bakker revives Australian film and stage director Simon Stone's original production, performed on a rotating, super-realist two-level cube.

Mezzo-soprano Ruxandra Donose, Miles Mykkanen as the Groom, soprano Lilian Farahani as the Bride, Claire de Sévigné and Rod Gilfry as the Mother-in-Law and Father-in-Law, bass Kristinn Sigmundsson as the Priest, Lucy Shelton as the teacher and Vilma Jää as the student Markéta form the ensemble singing in nine different languages (with English supertitles).

A year ago in June, director Peter Sellars staged Saariaho's profound and powerful second opera "Adriana Mater" with the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall. Esa-Pekka Salonen, a lifelong friend and colleague of the composer, conducted.

The impact of that experience, which exposed the brutal aftermath of rape in wartime, still resonates in memory. With "Innocence" Saariaho turned again to provocative subject matter.

Gun violence and the agony of grief and blame that follow need intense examination. The unique soundscape of Saariaho's music provides a moving and illuminating framework.

Her music can initially feel like a cold plunge, but warmth inevitably emerges and her orchestral and vocal writing has an incandescent beauty. "Adriana Mater" ultimately accepted forgiveness above vengeance and rage.

"Innocence" imparts a similarly positive and loving message. Both operas show honesty and humanism are essential in the process of healing. June 1—21.

Handel's 'Partenope' (photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera)  

First presented at SFO in 2014, the Olivier Award-winning staging of George Frideric Handel's sophisticated and typically melodious romp proved a runaway hit. Director Christopher Alden moves the action to a chic 1920s Parisian salon. Flashy baroque vocalism fits surprisingly well with avant-garde twentieth-century art.

Sleek set designs by Andrew Lieberman, gorgeous costumes by Jon Morrell and, bright original lighting by Adam Silverman, relit by Gary Marder, make a delightful setting for the giddy gender-fluid characters who populate the amusing story of a beautiful queen and her cohort of unusual suitors.

Early music expert Christopher Moulds conducts the cast, featuring French soprano Julie Fuchs and countertenor Carlo Vistoli, who make their house debuts as Partenope and Arsace. Mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack and tenor Alek Shrader repeat their portrayals of Rosmira and Emilio.

The third performance of" Innocence" (Wed., June 12 7:30 p.m.) and "Partenope" (Sun., June 23 2 p.m.) will be livestreamed. Tickets are $27.50 and include a 48-hour on-demand access window. June 15—28.
For a calendar and info on interesting ancillary events, visit

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