Opera Warhorses

An appreciation and analysis of the 'Standard Repertory' of opera

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Summertime Vacation Destinations for Enjoying Opera, Part 1 – San Francisco in June and Early July

May 27th, 2013

Although many operas are presented in Northern climes in wintry weather, there are several venues in North America that offer summertime fare. This series will highlight four of them, and we will report, as we have in past seasons, on each of their summer productions.

June kicks off the second part of the San Francisco Opera’s Fall-Summer split season (mounting, in recent seasons, five operas in the fall and three more following a seven month break in performances.)

Beginning June 5, the three “summer” operas will begin in repertory – Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann (Les Contes d’Hoffmann)”, Mozart’s “Cosi fan Tutte” and the world premiere of Adamo’s “The Gospel According to Mary Magdalene”.

“Hoffmann” will be a new production by Laurent Pelly, which I have already featured [See In Quest of “High Concept Direction” in Opera Performance – June-September 2013]. I have also featured the revival of “Cosi” [See Best Bet Revivals of Live Opera Productions May-September, 2013.]

The Summer of Mary Magdalene

One of the most anticipated events of the summer season is the world premiere of Mark Adamo’s new opera “The Gospel According to Mary Magdalene” on June 19th.

San Francisco Opera general director, David Gockley, when director of  the Houston Grand Opera, premiered the two previous “main stage” operatic works of American composer Mark Adamo –  “Little Women”  (1998) and “Lysistrata”. On June 19th, Gockley’s San Francisco Opera will premiere Adamo’s third major opera, “The Gospel According to Mary Magdalene”.

[Below: Composer Mark Adamo at the 2001 Central City, Colorado Summer Opera Festival; resized image of a Martin Gram photograph.]


Commissioned by the San Francisco Opera, and set to a libretto that Adamo himself wrote, the opera is inspired by the fragmentary early Christian writing, The Gospel According to Mary, which provides a fundamentally different viewpoint on the role of women in the early Christian church, and of Jesus’ teachings about sin, sexuality and transcendence.

The opera may be thought of as a prequel to the fragment that exists from the original Gospel of Mary. Adamo has created his version of the events that culminate in what remains in the ancient fragment – the description of Mary Magdalene’s conversation with the vision of Christ after his resurrection and the reaction of the apostles who are present when she describes that vision.

The opera has four characters. Sasha Cooke (San Francisco Opera debut) is Mary Magdalene. Nathan Gunn in Yeshua, the Savior; William Burden is the skeptical apostle Peter; and Maria Kanyova is eashua’s mother, Miriam.

[Below: Yeshua (Nathan Gunn, left) embraces Mary Magdalene (Sasha Cooke); edited image, based on a production photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


[Note from William: Previously, I have interviewed the opera’s two male stars, baritone Nathan Gunn – see Heartland Heartthrob: An Interview with Nathan Gunn, Part I and Heartland Heartthrob: An Interview with Nathan Gunn, Part 2 – and tenor William Burden – see American Orpheus: An Interview with William Burden.]

Various events scheduled throughout the San Francisco Bay Area will provide background information on the opera’s source material. A list of those community events can be accessed from the San Francisco Opera website.

[Below: a promotional electronic brochure on community events related to the opera accessible through the website www.sfopera.com.]


The Gospel immediately goes into rotation with “Hoffmann” and “Cosi”, permitting a visitor to San Francisco with 11 separate options between June 18th and July 3rd to see all three operas in three consecutive days.

A few other San Francisco attractions

There are lots of reasons why visitors come to San Francisco in June other than the opera. It is a beautiful, cultured city with fine food and exciting night life – always one of the world’s favorite cities.

The biggest June attraction of all is likely the Gay Pride Weekend which in 2013 will be June 29 and 30, with the annual Parade to be held on June 30th.

[Below: a scene from the 2009 San Francisco Gay Pride Parade; resized image of a copyrighted David Wu photograph, from flickr.com.]


In fact, opera goers attending the June 30 matinee of “Hoffmann” will be well aware of this highly theatrical event (which can be as “over the top” as a New Orleans Mardi Gras or a Rio de Janiero Carneval), since the parade ends only a few yards from the entrance to the opera house.

For those wishing to concentrate on Pride events than opera on Pride weekend, rotations of the three operas occur immediately before, after, and during the weekend.

And for those wishing a less frantic time in San Francisco, there are four other opera weekends and 16 weeknight opera performances over the 32 days of the summer season.

San Francisco Opera as a Special Experience

Although I have found merit in live opera performances in numerous quite different venues, I have made the point that one has a special experience in attending opera in the very elegant War Memorial Opera House.

[Below: the War Memorial Opera House interior, looking towards balconies from side; promotional photograph from sfballet.org.]


The War Memorial is not only one of the grandest opera houses in existence, it is one of the world’s largest theaters of elegance, with excellent acoustics and sight lines throughout much of the house. A live performance of opera in this house is almost always an experience to be treasured.

[For further ideas and information on a San Francisco Opera-centered vacation, see: Tom’s Tips on the San Francisco Opera Scene.]


Tags: Quests and Anticipations