San Francisco Opera opened its 101st season on Tuesday with a production of Verdi’s glorious melodrama “Il Trovatore,” an opera packed with unforgettable, back-to-back arias and a saga of mistaken identity, gypsy curses, war, and, of course, doomed love.
Caruso is quoted as saying of the opera that it requires “four of the greatest singers in the world.”
That is a tall order for any opera house, but it can be said that SF Opera presents a well-sung, well-staged production with a potent cast, despite having to recently recast the principal character.
The handsome 2006 David McVicar production, staged here by Roy Rallo, not only works, but makes perfect sense with its striking set designs by Charles Edwards. A giant stone fortress for the soldiers, a colorful Romani/gypsy camp, a palace garden for lovers. Grand concepts for grand opera.
Russian mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk, called to stand in for indisposed Anita Rachvelishvili, made a tentative start as Azucena, the old gypsy dedicated to avenging the death of her mother by a member of the royal family of 19th century Spain.
Eventually though, her darkly colored, lusty mezzo powered the central role with authority and drive and created real sparks when expressing her love for her son Manrico (Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz) and her obsession with the murderous Count di Luna (Romanian baritone George Petean).
Top honors, though, go to American soprano Angel Blue for her starry first interpretation of Leonora, lady-in-waiting to the queen and Manrico’s lover.
Heard here in 2009 as Clara in Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess,” Blue’s brilliantly colored, soaring and perfectly phrased voice is in demand on opera stages all over the world. A voice so big and bountiful and inventive is hard to describe.
Troubadour-lover Chacón-Cruz partnered Blue with honeyed high lines, and Petean’s contribution was substantial, though endowed with more dramatic punch than vocal luster. Canadian bass Robert Pomakov was an impressive Ferrando, captain of the guards.
San Francisco Opera music director Eun Sun Kim drew a passionate, highly dramatic performance from the orchestra, and John Keene’s chorus was in top form.
“Il Trovatore” continues at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 20, Sept. 23 and Sept. 29 and and 2 p.m. Oct. 1 at the War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco. Tickets start at $26 apiece. The Sept. 20 performance will be live-streamed, with tickets at $27.50. For more information, call (415) 864-3330 or visit sfopera.com.