A Look at the San Francisco Opera 94th Season’s Opening Night

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Matthew and Katie Shivlock
Matthew and Katie Shivlock

San Francisco Opera opened 94th season under the new general director Matthew Shilvock with a successful performance of Giordano’s Andrea Chénier. The packed audiences at the sold-out Opera House gave nearly 10 minutes standing ovation at the conclusion. The production is quite an international joint efforts—directed by renowned Scottish director David McVicar, with South Korean tenor Yonghoon Lee in the title role as the French poet Andrea Chénier, Italian soprano Anna Pirozzi as Andrea’s love interest Maddalena, Georgian baritone George Gagnidze as Carlo Gerard and distinguished Italian conductor and the company’s music director since 2009 Nicola Luisotti conducted the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. This production is made possible, in part, by Opening Weekend Grand Sponsor Diane B. Wilsey. Major support is also provided by: John & Cynthia Fry Gunn; Barbara A. Wolfe; Jan Shrem & Maria Manetti Shrem through the Conductors Fund and the Emerging Stars Fund; and Joan and David Traitel through the Great Singers Fund.

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The 2016 Opera Ball celebrated the Opening Night in the theme of La Revolution et L’Amour was chaired by Sandra Farris and Patricia Sprincin. The event designer J. Riccardo Benavides created the dazzling patron dinner and after-party tented pavillion featured red carpet, two huge golden statures of French court dogs, 18th century French décor and even the City Hall across the street lit the building in a dramatic blue, red and white  for the colors of French flag.  The flowers decorated the Opera House donated by Diane Wilsey were in French flags and blue, red and white too. Dan McCalls catering provided the lavish dinner and the after-party.

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McVicar’s stage was praised as “a ‘realistic’ picture of 18th-century France as it passes from gilded ancien régime splendour to stern revolutionary austerity” This vivid realisation of Giordano’s passionate tale of love and idealism under the looming shadow of the guillotine was McVicar’s  premiere of Andrea Chénier at San Francisco Opera with set designer Robert Jones and costume designer Jenny Tiramani. The opening act I scene was the opulent Winter garden room at the chateau of Contessa di Coigny. The magnificent room features 6 crystal chandeliers each 6 foot tall with 12 candles and lit by six footman to illuminate the party guests wearing elaborate French court costumes. The stage scene gets gloomier as the story gets more and more tragic in Act II, III and ended with the lovers Andrea Chénier and Maddlena di Coigny go to the guillotine in Act IV.

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South Korean tenor Yonghoon Lee has strong and yet tender voice singing love poems. For an Asian playing a French man, he has impressive flair and presence. Soprano Anna Pirozzi’s Maddalena was emotional and powerful, especially the final act when she bribed the jailer at Prison Saint-Lazare into letting her die that morning alongside her lover Chenier. Georgian baritone George Gagnidze played Gerard, his great aria “Nemico della patria” was with wrenching expression. Mezzo-soprano Catherine Cook’s Contessa di Coigny was funny and very entertaining. The opening also marked the beginning of Matthew Shilvock’s inaugural season as general director. Shilvock is the seventh general director in the company’s nearly 100 years history. The proceeds of the  annual Opera Ball gala benefits the SF Opera Guild’s education and outreach programs.

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