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San Francisco Opera Summer Season

The Final Three Shows of 2007/2008

Looking for a little summer entertainment? You’re in luck -- the next few weeks at the San Francisco Opera portend some of the most bombastic, entertaining productions of the summer season, ranging from anachronistic renditions of Norse mythology to insanity-addled tales of romance and longing. Simply pop out the binoculars and settle in for some classic divertissement, with a twist.

“Das Rheingold”
June 3–June 28

Richard Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle is perhaps one of the most vaunted epic sequences in the history of opera. Smattered with a bold re-telling of Norse myths and an aesthetically brutal depiction of the lust for power and the human penchant for destruction, it’s an overwhelmingly beautiful and colossal representation of morality, myth, and dissolution. Co-produced with the Washington National Opera, this version of the first tale in the cycle finds interesting corollaries between the original story and American history, from the gold rush through the Roaring Twenties.

Director Francesca Zambello takes the mythmaking into new terrain by emphasizing current dilemmas such as environmental degradation and corporate ambition and greed. The tale is somewhat geographically germane to the Bay Area, since it’s about a power-hungry dwarf/49’er named Alberich, who takes gold from an enchanted riverbed in order to create a magic ring that will enable its bearer to take control of the world—much to the chagrin of the often besotted, puffed-up king of the gods, Wotan, who’s also vying for control.

While the imagery is desultory and sometimes reeks of forced randomness, the trek through Valhalla and the U.S.’s messy social history is always fascinating and artfully rendered. Donald Runnicles’ musical direction is robust and vigorous, and stand-outs include tenor Stefan Margita as the fluid, eloquent trickster demigod Loge, and baritone Mark Delavan breathing vital life into his first Wotan. Keep an eye out for the entire Ring Cycle, to be performed in full during the summer of 2011.

June 15–July 6

Handel’s gorgeously Baroque opera “Ariodante” is seldom performed in most opera repertories, and it’s no wonder. Handel operas are usually dauntingly long and full of strenuous arias and nebulous plot twists. This opera was composed in 1734 and includes an Othello-esque tale about the eponymous Scottish prince and a jealous duke. Ariodante is betrothed to Ginevra, the daughter of the King of Scotland, but a wrench is thrown into his potential amours when the deceitful Duke of Albany, Polinesso, attempts to secure the throne and the nubile Ginevra by persuading Ariodante that she is his lover. It’s duly melodramatic without all the trappings of tragedy to bog it down. Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham sings the title role beautifully (Ariodante was originally a castrato role) while director John Copley deftly maneuvers around all the Baroque confusion.

b“Lucia di Lammermoor”
June 17–July 5

Donizetti’s drama tragico, “Lucia di Lammermoor,” is a sprawling three-act opera based on Sir Walter Scott’s historical novel, “The Bride of Lammermoor,” and still stands as one of the most celebrated bel canto operas in the canon. At turns luminous and histrionic, the story centers around a young woman forced to wed a man she hates. It’s actually based on a true story that eventuated back in 1669 in lowland Scotland; Scott’s rendition involves a heated feud between two families, the Ashtons and the Ravenswoods. Rivalry and contention over ancestral homes, desolate seaside towers, and scheming siblings make the opera delightfully gothic in scope. While Lucia’s famous mad scene has lapsed into a series of bug-eyed parodies over the centuries, it’s a virtuosic role that many a diva has sunk her teeth into, including coloratura soprano Dame Joan Sutherland and mezzo-soprano Maria Callas. French soprano Natalie Dessay assumes the role this time around, and her angelic, sonorous voice is piercing enough to break hearts rather than glass.

For more information on the summer season, visit http://www.sfopera.com.