Subscriptions are on sale now for San Francisco Opera's 92nd season, opening Sept. 5 at War Memorial Opera House with Bellini's "Norma," starring soprano Sondra Radvanovsky in the bel canto title role. A compelling performer, she recently sang that role to strong reviews at New York's Metropolitan Opera.
But that's only part of what makes David Gockley happy. Discussing details of the 2014-15 season, San Francisco Opera's general director is "excited to go back to ten operas," he said, up from eight productions in the current season. "It symbolizes that the company is aggressively going into the post-recession period with confidence -- and taking risks."
Next season's highlights include Berlioz's "Les Troyens" ("The Trojans"), the company's first production of the five-hour epic in 47 years (June 7-July 1, 2015); the world premiere of Italian composer Marco Tutino's "La Ciociara" ("Two Women"), based on the novel that inspired the 1960 film with Sophia Loren, for which she won an Oscar (June 13-20, 2015); and two company premieres, Carlisle Floyd's "Susannah" (Sept. 6-21, 2014) and Handel's "Partenope" (Oct. 15-Nov. 2, 2014).
Next season's ten productions also will include classics by Verdi ("Un Ballo in Maschera," Oct. 4-22, 2014); Puccini ("Tosca," Oct. 23-Nov. 8, 2014; and "La Bohème," Nov. 14-Dec. 7, 2014); Rossini ("La Cenerentola," Nov. 9-26, 2014); and Mozart ("Le Nozze di Figaro," June 14-July 5, 2015).
And here's some breaking news: Standard curtain time will be rolled back to 7:30 p.m., from 8 p.m. "Bedtime comes early," Gockley said. "We have to think about the lifestyles of our audience, and, in general, it's a more early-to-bed, early-to-rise audience than it probably was 20 or 30 years ago. Working people."
Neighborhood restaurants have been informed: "They'll have to open earlier, serve earlier and get people out."
Gockley gave this overview of the 2014-15 season: "Les Troyens." Based on Virgil's "Aeneid" and recounting the story of ancient Troy's fall, the opera will have an impressive cast: soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci, mezzo-sopranos Susan Graham and Sasha Cooke, tenor Bryan Hymel. David McVicar directs "Troyens," co-produced with London's Royal Opera House, Milan's La Scala and Vienna State Opera. It "will test every constraint that we have physically and technically in War Memorial Opera House. It's a monster," Gockley said. Donald Runnicles, the company's former music director, conducts. "La Ciociara." With a libretto by composer Tutino and Fabio Ceresa, it's adapted from the novel by Alberto Moravia and was championed by music director Nicola Luisotti, who will conduct. Gockley said, "Nicola and Tutino came forward with this idea of adapting the novel, which had been the source of the movie with Sophia Loren and Jean-Paul Belmondo.... We took some stuff from the movie, but basically went back to the novel, which is a very good read, by the way. We fashioned an airtight libretto and the piano-vocal score is on my desk." "Susannah." Carlisle Floyd's 1955 opera "was originally to have been staged this season (2013-14), but it fell via the budgetary ax...," he continued. "It's an amazing story of the hypocrisy of religion, which I think is a major issue in our world. There are two or three amazing roles, beautiful arias, lush orchestration. To me it's the greatest American opera after 'Porgy and Bess.'" Soprano Patricia Racette sings the title role. "Partenope." Gockley called it "a chic modernist production with great, great humor that I think the public will love, and we have a great young Baroque conductor, Christian Curnyn." Lyric soprano Danielle de Niese and countertenor David Daniels lead the cast. This staging of "Partenope" won the 2009 Olivier Award for Best New Production when it premiered at English National Opera. Favorite singers. Gockley mentioned a number of those he most looks forward to hearing. They include baritone Carlos Chausson, "a wonderful boffo from Spain, whom I have tried to get for 20 years ("La Cenerentola"); soprano Lianna Haroutounian, "the Armenian sensation," as Tosca in her company debut ("Tosca"); and Italian soprano Antonacci, who sings major roles in "La Ciociara" and "Les Troyens." Asked to narrow his choices to a single recommendation for the public, Gockley said, "For somebody that they haven't seen before, (Bulgarian soprano) Krassimira Stoyanova -- just a beautiful voice, a total performer. I've been trying to get her for years; she's very busy in Europe. I think that will be a big pleasant surprise for our public to become acquainted with her." Looking ahead. He also announced a world premiere commission: "Dream of the Red Chamber" by Chinese-American composer Bright Sheng with libretto by the composer and David Henry Hwang, to open in fall 2016.
Gockley didn't gloss over the company's financial challenges: "We have a lot of tickets that are unsubscribed -- about half," he said. Over the last couple decades, subscription sales have fallen off throughout the opera and classical music world. Why? Here are two reasons: There's more competition from other entertainment forms. And with their busy schedules, people prefer to buy tickets on the spur of the moment, rather than to make commitments months in advance.
"So we have to depend on selling a lot of single tickets," Gockley said. "It means that a lot of new people have got to be pulled into the theater.... We are forecasting about a $1.2 million deficit (for the fiscal year ending June 30) and we're going to try like hell to close that in the next six months. We have some very popular titles coming up in June: 'Showboat,' 'Butterfly' and 'Traviata.' We've really got to hit those out of the park."
Contact Richard Scheinin at 408-920-5069, read his stories and reviews at www.mercurynews.com/richard-scheinin and follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/richardscheinin.
San Francisco Opera's 2014-15 season
Sept. 5, 2014-July 5, 2015
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
Tickets: Subscriptions on sale now: $72-$3,272; 415-864-3330, www.sfopera.com
. Single tickets ($25-$480) go on sale June 30.