San Diego’s 2020-2021 Season: Surprises and Ample Puccini

At long last, San Diego Opera has announced its 2020-2021 season. Like every other performance company in the U.S.—from New York City’s prestigious Metropolitan Opera Company to local mom-and-pop black box theater storefronts—the current coronavirus pandemic halted all live public performance in mid-March, upending San Diego Opera’s 2019-2020 season in midstream.

“We were ready to go and announce our new season in March,” explained General Director David Bennett on Monday. “Then everything shut down, and we had to go back to the drawing board.”

Angel Joy Blue [photo courtesy of San Diego Opera]

While the Metropolitan Opera is hedging its bets and waiting until the last day of 2020 to reopen its house, San Diego Opera is bravely projecting its season opening production of Puccini’s La bohème at San Diego Civic Theatre for October 24, 2020. Bennett’s star-studded cast—he referred to it as his “dream cast”—features soprano Angel Blue as Mimi and, as her Rodolfo, tenor Joshua Guerrero. San Diego audiences first heard Angel Blue as Liu in the company’s 2018 Turandot production, and since then her career has continued to soar both at the Met and internationally. Guerrero’s brilliant tenor voice amazed San Diego Opera audiences this past season in two different concert performances.

“We already had contracted with these singers for October 2020—as well as with the San Diego Symphony—and the likelihood of scheduling a later date with these players was not likely,” Bennett said. Should stage four of the current shutdown, that final classification of pubic gatherings that includes sporting events and concerts, not be in place by mid October, Bennett has scouted three possible outdoor venues with more spacious seating configurations for this Puccini opera.

From that cancelled portion of the 2019-2020 season, the company is rescheduling its main stage production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville to open on April 24, 2021. Included in this stellar cast are soprano Emily Fons, a San Diego Opera favorite performer, as Rosina; San Diego newcomer baritone David Pershall as Figaro, and bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi as Doctor Bartolo. Carfizzi favorably impressed local audiences with his vocal prowess as Major-General Stanley in the company’s 2017 The Pirates of Penzance and as Henry Kissinger in its 2015 Nixon in China.

Just before the quarantine went into effect, the company was days away from opening the West Coast Premiere of Paola Prestini’s Aging Magician, a hybrid opera-theatre piece produced by Beth Morrison Projects that features the Brooklyn Youth Chorus and singer/performance artist Rinde Eckert, who also wrote the libretto. Aging Magician will open March 26, 2021 at Civic Theatre.

Completely new to 2020-2021 is an evening of two Puccini one-act operas from his trilogy Il Trittico. The double bill opens February 13, 2021 in San Diego Civic Theatre with the tragic Suor Angelica, an opera that has never been performed by San Diego Opera, and the beloved comic opera Gianni Schicchi, which has not been produced by the company since 1972.

Stephanie Blythe with Craig Terry at piano [photo (c) Kevin Yatarola]

Although the title role of Gianni Schicchi is typically sung by a baritone, in this production mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, who will also sing the role of the Principessa in Suor Angelica, will sing Gianni Schicchi, the clever Florentine trickster around whom the opera’s plot revolves. “I started thinking about singing the role the last time I sang in Il Trittico at the Metropolitan Opera,” Stephanie Blythe explained. “I have sung in that show so many times, that I can sing most of the roles from memory. I just found myself singing a lot of Schicchi’s music, and it gave me the idea.”

“I thought she would sing the role of Zita, an older woman in the opera’s cast,” Bennett added. “At first I was wary when she suggested singing the title role, but then I thought, ‘Why not?’ She has such power in that baritone range of her voice that I decided it would be good for her to explore this role musically and dramatically.”

Blythe will be joined by soprano Marina Costa-Jackson, who will sing the title role of Suor Angelica, tenor Piotr Buszewski, and mezzo-soprano Carolyn Sproule in their company debuts. San Diego Opera’s Principal Guest Conductor Yves Abel returns to lead these performances of late Puccini master works.

Reprising a production from its 2018 season, on December 4 and 5, 2020, the company will offer All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914, which has become a local holiday tradition in recent years. This San Diego Opera production will feature singers from the opera chorus and will be conducted by Bruce Stasyna and directed by Alan Hicks.

One more offering, “One Amazing Night,” the company’s traditional concert of two singers with orchestra, is slated for November 18, 2020, with performers to be announced.


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