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Backstage with Matthew - January 21

Matthew Shilvock

This is a season crafted by my predecessor, David Gockley, and it is a season that represents so many of the pillars of excellence that have defined his legendary career. Powerful productions, the finest singers, and a broad, diverse and growing repertoire.

It is a season that exudes excitement. It is capped by the monumental Ring Cycle in June 2018 which is the great demonstration of an opera company’s capabilities. The Ring pushes a company to the limits and it needs the absolute collaboration of the whole company and community to bring it to life. Just before the holidays, I was fortunate to see Evelyn Herlitzius, our new Brünnhilde in Elektra in Barcelona and it was one of the most emotional, gripping, visceral performances I have ever seen. We have something very special ahead and, with Ring sales being 400 packages ahead of our last Ring at this time, public interest is palpable.

Francesca Zambello, John Adams, Peter Sellars and myself
Our Ring 2018 cover artwork
Set model photo for Girls of the Golden West
National Theater of Prague production of Elektra; Lithuanian National Opera production of Manon

This coming fall, in celebration of John Adams’ 70th birthday, we will unveil the world premiere of Girls of the Golden West, with a libretto compiled by Peter Sellars. This is our story—the birth of modern day California and the deep parallels with our own time here in contemporary San Francisco. A surge of humanity descending from across the world on this small part of America, hungry for wealth, opportunity and immediate success. Some succeed, many others fail, but in that surge there is a new sense of community being built—a community propelled by a competitive energy but also trying to find common meaning amongst a diverse population. This is a story for the here and now of San Francisco.

We bring to life two more new productions this fall. Two great works—Elektra and Manon—which haven’t been done here for almost 20 years. Richard Strauss’ dark and raw unraveling of the Elektra myth will be brought to searing life in a new production by Keith Warner, a British director whose Ring Cycle and Salome have graced the Royal Opera House stage in London in recent years. I love the conception of what he’s done with Elektra. It is set in a museum, showcasing an exhibition of the Elektra complex. As the museum closes, a woman gets caught in the museum and must spend the night there. As she delves deeper and deeper into the exhibit, this sweeping archetypal story unlocks deep memories about her own family and her own background. It’s a perfect example of opera holding up a mirror to life! Musically this will be superb—Christine Goerke, Stephanie Blythe and Adrianne Pieczonka will be a powerhouse trio who will leave all of us in a state of shock after this 100-minute experience.

If you attended the Gockley Gala you may recall the smoldering kiss at the end of the Manon duet between Nadine Sierra and Michael Fabiano. The audience was hungry to know if they might get to see more than just the trailer and the answer is, yes! Nadine and Michael—two of the most beloved artists in our recent history—will bring to life the painfully exquisite story of a young woman in late 19th century Paris who is torn between a life of riches and one of true love (her original intent to join a convent is left behind early on!). The production is by Vincent Boussard and Vincet Lemaire (of Capuleti fame) and it is a shimmering interplay of light and reflection that will give an elegant, contemporary feel to this tragic love story.

And, talking of tragic love stories, one of the greatest of all times—La Traviata—returns in our beloved John Copley production, directed this year by our very own Shawna Lucey. Shawna does spectacular work for the Company and I’m thrilled she is directing this. Our Managing Director: Artistic, Greg Henkel has assembled a wonderful trio of exciting debuting artists, including the US debut of Romanian soprano Aurelia Florian. Finally we have Turandot which bookends the fall season in our classic Hockney production. That the first Turandot is the acclaimed Viennese soprano Martina Serafin (here last for Rosenkavalier in 2007) and the second Turandot is Nina Stemme is about as strong a statement in the artistic values of SFO as one could imagine. A great cast and a great conductor in Nicola Luisotti who will lead both the first run of Turandot and the Traviata.

The 2017–18 Season is Nicola’s last with us as Music Director, marking a significant transition for the Company. His profound passion for these great works has elevated this company to an incredible level and his legacy will be long lasting. We are in discussions about future projects together, but will be celebrating Nicola’s huge impact this fall, beginning with the opening night of the season where Nicola will be fêted as the honoree at Opera Ball.

A world premiere, two new productions, two powerfully cast revivals, and the Ring. Nine worlds into which we all can delve. Nine soaring experiences that will define us in spectacular ways. This is SFO firing on all cylinders and I know we have great excitement ahead. As we say in the brochure, this is “The Music that Moves the City”—it is art that galvanizes us together as a community, finding common meaning amongst archetypal works of the human condition. This is the profound work that we do here, and it is only possible because of the great intersection of everyone in the Opera family.

Here’s to a great celebration of SFO in the year ahead. Thank you for all you do to make possible such transformative experiences.