I can hardly wring my hands about the state of American opera when new commissions and initiatives are being announced every day. David Gockley, now general director of the San Francisco Opera, has for decades been a leading force for the creation of new American opera, first in Houston and now in San Francisco. Rather than take a season off after Christopher Theofanides’s Heart of a Soldier, which had its world premiere in September, 2011, he’s following up no fewer than three world premieres in the calendar year 2013: “The Secret Garden” by Nolan Gasser and Carey Harrison in March, a family-oriented piece presented with Cal Performances; Mark Adamo’s “The Gospel of Mary Magdalene” in June; and, in September, Tobias Picker’s “Dolores Claiborne,” with a libretto by J.D. McClatchy based on the Stephen King novel, starring Dolora Zajick in the title role.
The 2012-13 season will also include the Bay Area premiere of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s Moby-Dick, which had an acclaimed world premiere in Dallas in 2010. Some could, and no doubt will, object that Heggie, Adamo and Picker are known quantities, that the latter two have yet to produce anything comparable to their initial successes (“Little Women;” “Emmeline”), that we need something new. The counterargument is that the San Francisco Opera is giving new opportunities to talented artists to allow them to continue to develop. And the season, as a whole, is indubitably an impressive example of a major opera house putting its money where its mouth is and taking a strong stand for the works of living opera composers.
Excerpts from “Emmeline” by Tobias Picker; a new Picker opera is on the calendar in San Francisco in 2013.