San Diego opera lovers breathed a sigh of relief Thursday when San Diego Opera General Director David Bennett announced the company’s 2023—2024 season. Three operas will be staged at the San Diego Civic Theatre: Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly—operas on the list of every opera fan’s 5 favorite operas—as well as a new opera to San Diego, El Milagro del Recuerdo, the 2019 mariachi opera by Javier Martinez, son of the late Pepe Martinez who wrote the mariachi opera Cruzar la Cara de la Luna, a well-received mariachi opera presented by San Diego Opera in 2013.In addition to these Civic Theatre productions, San Diego Opera will present a concert and a recital at the Balboa Theatre. Soprano Latonia Moore and mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges, favorite divas to local audiences, will present their vocal concert accompanied by the San Diego Symphony to open the new season on October 25, 2023. Closing the season on June 8, 2024, tenor Joshua Guerrero and soprano Andrea Carroll, equally well-received singers from recent San Diego Opera productions, will give a joint recital with piano accompaniment.
Traditionally, San Diego Opera announces its upcoming season at the opening of the company’s final offering of the current season. This May, however, the company canceled the 2022 — 2023 season’s last scheduled production, Zach Redler’s The Falling and the Rising, for financial reasons, so the opportunity for announcing the new season remained in limbo.
Meanwhile, Bennett and the San Diego Opera Board have been revising earlier plans for the upcoming season in light of the current financial challenges.“Since December of last year, we have gone through 16 different budgets trying to make the new season financially viable,” Bennett said. “There is not a performing arts organization in the country that is not dealing with the challenges of rebuilding its audiences in this post-Covid economy.”
Last season, San Diego Opera produced four operas and one recital, but the 2023 — 2024 season will offer only three staged productions with a vocal concert and a vocal recital. But the most evident change will be the number of performances of each Civic Theatre opera.
“At this point, filling the Civic Theatre is our biggest challenge. It has a capacity to hold an audience of 2800, but our best attendance last season was 1800 for one of the Tosca performances. We believe we can accommodate our audiences with just two performances of each opera at Civic Theatre in place of the traditional four performances,” Bennett explained.
He explained that the average cost of a single staged performance in Civic Theatre—the industry term for that is unit cost—has risen substantially in recent years.
“The unit cost of a single Civic Theatre production in 2017 was #325,000, but by 2022 it had risen to $415,000.”
The silver lining of the 2023 — 2024 San Diego Opera season is the enviable level of each offering’s casting.
Latonia Moore and J’Nai Bridges impressed local audiences as Cio-Cio-San and Suzuki in San Diego Opera’s highly successful 2016 production of Madama Butterfly, and their careers have soared since that production. In San Diego Opera’s 2024 Madama Butterfly, soprano Corrine Winters will sing Cio-Cio-San. Winters gave San Diego Opera a stunning Violetta in the company’s 2017 Verdi’s La traviata. In this Butterfly, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Doche, who has appeared in leading roles in recent Opera Neo summer festival productions, will sing Suzuki.In the company’s 2020 drive-in staging of Puccini’s La bohème, both tenor Joshua Guerrero and soprano Andrea Carroll gave both vocally rich and compelling dramatic characterizations of Rodolfo and Musetta. Guadalupe Paz, who created the role of Frida Kahlo in the San Diego Opera world premiere of Gabriela Lena Frank’s El último sueño de Frida y Diego, returns to sing La Mujer in Javier Martinez’s mariachi opera El Milagro del Recuerdo.
Other singers with a ready following include local soprano Tasha Koontz, an asset in this spring’s San Diego Opera production of Puccini’s Sour Angelica, who will sing Donna Anna in the February 2024 Don Giovanni, along with soprano Ashley Fabian who will sing Zerlina. Fabian recently was featured earlier this month in Handel’s Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno presented by Opera Neo.