Of the few surprises San Francisco Opera general director David Gockley unveiled in Monday's announcement of the company's 2013-14 season, the biggest is the world premiere of a brand new opera based on a 1992 novel by Stephen King, the award-winning author of some of America's most chilling horror stories since Edgar Allan Poe. While "Dolores Claiborne" is not as heavily steeped in supernatural phenomena as some of his other works, it certainly qualifies as a spellbinding psychological thriller. The new opera's music is composed by Tobias Picker and its libretto by J. D. McClatchy.

Cast in the title role is San Francisco favorite and former Adler Fellow, mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick. Soprano Elizabeth Futral will sing the role of Vera Donovan, and Sarah Biller will portray Dolores' daughter Selena. It will open Sept 18 and run through Oct. 4.

When McClatchy was asked about how the libretto of the opera compares to the book, he quickly answered, "It's better." Picker agreed with Gockley that the work is writen in an "American verissimo style," and will be sung in American vernacular, without much "pretty English."

But Picker stressed that the main character "is a strong, powerful woman who is surrounded by other strong women. The males in the opera are weaker individuals, but relationship between Dolores and her husband speaks to me," he said. "They share a long journey."

King's book was made into a movie starring Kathy Bates, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Christopher Plummer in 1994.

Picker, 58, is a New York composer whose first opera, 1996's "Emmeline," has been followed by the "Fantastic Mr. Fox," an adaption of a book by Roald Dahl; "Therese Raquin; and "An American Tragedy," based on the novel by Theodore Dreiser.

The second surprise of the season will be a dazzling, no-holds-barred staging by director Francesca Zambello of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's "Show Boat," in a Peter J. Davison designed production shared with Lyric Opera of Chicago, Washington National Opera and Houston Grand Opera. Starring Heidi Stober, Patricia Racette, and Nathan Gunn, it opens June 1 and runs through July 2.

The S.F. Opera season will open Sept. 6 with Arrigo Boito's "Mefistofele," the composer/librettist's variation on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust tale that focuses on the fascinating devil. The cast will include Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov, soprano Patricia Racette and tenor Ramon Vargas, with performances running through Oct. 2. To celebrate the bicentennials of two titans of the opera, Verdi and Wagner, the company will present Verdi's "Falstaff," with Bryn Terfel in the title role Oct. 8 through Nov. 2, and a single performance of the Verdi "Requiem" on Oct. 25 featuring soloists Leah Crocetto, Jamie Barton, Michael Fabiano and Vitalij Kowaljow.

Wagner's 200th birthday will be celebrated with a new Petrika Ionesco production of "The Flying Dutchman," starring Greer Grimsley and Petra Maria Schnitzer, opening Oct. 22 and running through Nov. 15.

Giacomo Rossini's exuberant comedy, "The Barber of Seville," in a new double-cast production designed by Lorenc Corbella, runs Nov. 13 through Dec. 1, with Lucas Meachem and Audun Iversen alternating as Figaro, Daniela Mack and Isabele Leonard as Rosina and Javier Camarena and Alek Shrader as Count Almaviva.

In further tribute to Verdi, Maestro Nicola Luisotti will conduct a double-cast "La Traviata," with stars Sonya Yoncheva and Allyn Perez sharing the role of Violetta, Saimir Pirgu and Stephen Costello alternating the role of Alfredo, and Vladimir Stoyanov and Quinn Kelsey as Germont. Performances will run June 11 through July 13. 2014.

Puccini's beloved "Madama Butterfly" will return to the stage June 15-July 9 in what Gockley called "a bold innovative production new to San Francisco" by Japan's Jun Kaneko, the designer who did last season's eye-popping backdrops for Mozart's "The Magic Flute. Patricia Racette will sing the title role.

All performances will feature the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus at the War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave. Various ticket packages ranging in price from $78 to $2,712, will go on sale Jan. 14 at 415-864-3330 or www.sfopera.com. Single tickets, $23-$385, will be made available in July.

NEW HAT FOR MORGAN: The Bear Valley Music Festival is about to get a new shot of energy. The leaders of the 44-year-old organization, nestled in a beautiful location in California's central Sierra Nevada, have just named Michael Morgan, the brilliantly innovative conductor of the Oakland East Bay Symphony, the new music director. Morgan will replace Carter Nice, who is stepping down from the podium after 29 years. Maestro Morgan has said that he considers his new position "as much like a reunion as a new adventure," since he already knows many of its musicians and has known the executive director, Irene Klug Nielsen, for decades. Lest Bay Area and other nearby music lovers worry, Morgan does not intend to slack off any of his present local activities. He will continue his vibrant leadership of the OEBS and his work with the Sacramento Philharmonic, the Oakland Youth Orchestra, the Festival Opera in Walnut Creek and the Sacramento Opera.

Contact Cheryl North at cherylnorth@hotmail.com.