San Francisco Opera’s upcoming 2023-2024 season emphasizes fresh works

San Francisco Opera – September 2023 to June 2024

Music director Eun Sun Kim and general director Matthew Shilvock © Codey Pickens

Works by contemporary composers Mason Bates, Rhiannon Giddens and Kaija Saariaho bring fresh voices to San Francisco Opera’s next season at the War Memorial Opera House and continues a trend to present new works.

Adding to last fall’s world premiere of Antony and Cleopatra by John Adams and this coming June’s El último sueño de Frida y Diego by Gabriela Lena Frank, these three pieces place San Francisco squarely in an era that is reviving interest in modern opera.

Recently, new operas have been among the best-attended events in major American opera companies’ seasons, which may be one reason why San Francisco Opera’s plans for 2023 and 2024 lean heavily on them. Cultural diversity also plays a significant role in these choices: the co-commissions for next season come from composers with roots in a range of heritages.

Bates, whose energetic music revels in electronics, saw his opera The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs debut in 2017 at Santa Fe Opera. The piece’s debut in San Francisco had been planned for the 2020 season but was derailed by the pandemic. This biographical opera focuses on the founder of Apple and his struggle to reconcile the computer world with the real world around him, and opens on 22 September.

Giddens, who fronted the Southern string band Carolina Chocolate Drops, collaborated on Omar with composer Michael Abels, who has written works for the Kronos Quartet and penned award-winning scores for several big Jordan Peele movies. Based on the self-written story of an African scholar captured into slavery in the early 1800s, Omar debuted last year at Spoleto USA. It opens on 5 November.

Saariaho’s ethereal music, steeped in her native Finland, informs Innocence, her fifth opera in a two-decade career. The tense, 90-minute, one-act piece, which debuted in 2021 in Aix-en-Provence, explores a family’s guilt and innocence after a traumatic event. It opens 1 June 2024.

Mexican culture and art are the touchstones for Frank’s opera about Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and their fraught marriage in the midst of making stunning art. (It debuts 13 June 2023.) Also in the current season, is John Adams’s opera, based on the Shakespeare play and reflecting the worlds of ancient Egypt and Rome.

2023-24 launches an initiative in which music director Eun Sun Kim conducts a work by Giuseppe Verdi and one by Richard Wagner in each season, with plans for a Wagner Ring cycle at some point. Verdi’s Il trovatore with soprano Angel Blue in David McVicar’s production will be the first opera in the season, which will also include Lohengrin with David Alden’s production from Covent Garden.

Rounding out the fall season, Kim conducts The Magic Flute with local favorite Amitai Pati as Tamino. And, in a departure from tying the season-opening Opera Ball on 8 September to a specific work, the event will be part of an evening with tenor Roberto Alagna and soprano Aleksandra Kurzak in concert with the opera orchestra.

Besides Saariaho’s Innocence, June 2024 features Pene Pati, Amatai Pati’s brother, in The Elixir of Love, and a well-deserved revival of Handel’s Partenope in the juicy Christopher Alden production that was a hit in 2014. Soprano Daniela Mack and tenor Alek Shrader reprise their roles, and Christopher Moulds conducts.

Harvey Steiman

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