San Francisco Opera (SFO) begins its 91st season next month with a gala performance of Arrigo Boito’s Mefistofele. While Boito is best known as the librettist for two of Giuseppe Verdi’s late operas, Otello and Falstaff, he was also a composer. Mefistofele (for which he also wrote his own libretto) was his only surviving complete opera. He destroyed an earlier effort, Ero e Leandro, and completed all but the final act of Nerone, for which only a few sketches exist. Like Charles Gounod’s Faust opera, Mefistofele is based on the first part of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust. (I know of al least one stage director who has lectured about how Boito was far more sensitive to Goethe’s source text than Gounod’s librettists, Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, had been.)
As the opera’s title suggests, Boito’s opera gives far more attention to the nature of Mefistofele’s character and the motives behind his actions. Nevertheless, the overall plot line follows Goethe’s development of Faust’s dual relationship with Mefistofele and the young virgin Margherita. The SFO production is shared with the Metropolitan Opera, based on staging by Robert Carsen. For this season’s performances, Laurie Feldman is responsible for reviving Carsen’s staging.
Mefistofele will be sung by Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov, who will be making his debut in this role. Mexican tenor Ramón Vargas will also be making his debut in the role of Faust in a fully-staged production of this opera. Soprano Patricia Racette will complete the “triad” of major characters in the role of Margherita. In addition, Boito incorporated Faust’s vision of Helen of Troy, from the second part of Goethe’s drama, for the fourth act of his opera; and Racette will also sing the role of Helen. The SFO Orchestra will be conducted by Nicola Luisotti.
The opening night gala performance of Mefistofele will be on Friday evening, September 6, beginning at 8 p.m. However, as always, this performance will take place in conjunction with the annual Opera Ball, whose theme this year will be The Garden of Good and Evil. Those festivities begin across the street from the War Memorial Opera House in City Hall, starting with a cocktail reception at 5 p.m. followed by dinner at 6 p.m. At the completion of the opera performance, guests then return to City Hall for cocktails, desserts, and dancing. Unfortunately, this event is sold out; but those hoping for any last-minute availability are free to check with the organizers at 415-565-3204.
On the other hand, tickets are still available for the gala events organized by the BRAVO! CLUB. This organization is aimed more at young professionals between the ages of 21 and 40. It will offer a Champagne Promenade reception on the Loggia of the War Memorial Opera House beginning at 7 p.m. Then, after the performance, guests will cross Franklin Street over to Jardinière for cocktails, desserts and dancing. For those interested in further information, BRAVO! CLUB has its own Web page on the San Francisco Opera Web site.
The full run of Mefistofele will consist of eight performances. Following the opening night festivities, those performances will take place on September 11 at 7:30 p.m., September 14 at 8 p.m., September 17 at 7:30 p.m., September 20 at 8 p.m., September 24 at 8 p.m., September 29 at 2 p.m., and October 2 at 7:30 p.m. On September 14, 17, and 29, Marina Harris will sing the role of Helen of Troy; and Racette will sing only Margherita.
Tickets are priced from $23 to $385 and may be purchased through the event page for this production. They may also be purchased at the SFO Box Office (in the lobby of the War Memorial Opera House) or by calling 415-864-3330. The Box Office is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. It is open for telephone orders only on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. In addition Standing Room tickets are available at the Box Office for $10, cash only, going on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance. Finally, because the SFO season has not yet begun, orders are still being taken for subscriptions through a Web page that describes the full variety of subscription series for which tickets may be ordered.
In addition, the celebration of the new season will continue on Sunday, September 8, beginning at 1:30 p.m. This is when SFO holds its annual free San Francisco Opera in the Park concert at Sharon Meadow in Golden Gate Park. This beloved San Francisco tradition is presented by the San Francisco Chronicle. SFO Music Director Nicola Luisotti will again conduct.