San Francisco Opera opens new season with Gounod’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’

Pene Pati and Nadine Sierra as Romeo and Juliet © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

It’s a busy week in San Francisco. With the opening of the new season there’s a lot going on, and San Francisco Opera is there in the midst of it all, with a wonderful weekend of performances ahead.

Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet opens the season this evening, Britten’s Billy Budd follows tomorrow, and Sunday sees the traditional Opera in the Park free concert, featuring a line-up of superb operatic stars.

This San Francisco Opera production of Romeo and Juliet stars tenor Pene Pati and soprano Nadine Sierra in the title roles. Staging is by Jean-Louis Grinda – Director of Opéra de Monte-Carlo, in his American debut – and French-Canadian conductor Yves Abel leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Director Ian Robertson)

Nadine Sierra as Juliet © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Shakespeare’s tale of the tragic young couple from 14th century Verona has for hundreds of years been the inspiration for so many creative artists in producing some of the most enduring and popular works in both the visual and performing arts, and this particular opera has French composer Charles Gounod to thank for its existence. He created his interpretation of Romeo and Juliet for the Lyric Theatre in Paris in 1867, and commissioned Jules Barbier and Michel Carré to write the libretto – having enjoyed great success with his opera based on Goethe’s Faust, on which he had collaborated with these librettists.

Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet was originally staged by San Francisco Opera during the Company’s inaugural season of 1923, in a performance conducted by Gaetano Merola, starring tenor Benjamin Gigli and soprano Queena Mario, and although it has featured in subsequent seasons since then, it is 32 years since the Company’s last production in 1987.

Pene Pati as Romeo and Daniel Montenegro as Tybalt © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Pene Pati and Nadine Sierra – both making a role debut in this production – are well known to San Francisco Opera and its audiences, both having graduated from the Merola Opera Program and the Company’s Adler Fellowship Program.

New Zealand-born Mr Pati – described by Opera Online as “the most exceptional tenor discovery of the last decade” – was most recently seen at the War Memorial Opera House as the Duke of Mantua in San Francisco Opera’s production of Rigoletto in 2017 (while he was still an Adler Fellow), and since then has appeared with New Zealand’s Festival Opera in Madama Butterfly, at Opera San José as Alfredo in La Traviata – which he also sang at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow – with New Zealand Opera as Nemorino in L’Elisir d’Amore, and with Opéra National de Bordeaux as Percy in Anna Bolena. Future plans include house debuts for Washington National Opera, Berliner Staatsoper and Wiener Staatsoper. He is also a member of Sol3 Mio, a trio formed together with his tenor brother and baritone cousin, who appeared in concert for San Francisco Opera in 2017.

The ball scene from ‘Romeo and Juliet’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Nadine Sierra – winner of the 2017 Richard Tucker Award and the Metropolitan Opera’s Beverly Sills Award in 2018 – has previously appeared for San Francisco Opera as the Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro, Pamina in Die Zauberflöte and in the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor. Last season’s appearances included the role of Nannetta in Falstaff at the Staatsoper Berlin, Gilda in Rigoletto at the Metropolitan Opera, a role debut as Manon at the Opéra national de Bordeaux, Gilda in Staatsoper Berlin’s new production of Rigoletto with conductor Daniel Barenboim, and Maria in a concert-version of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story with Antonio Pappano at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. Stereophile describes her voice as “…. alive, gorgeous, and positively thrilling higher in the range”

Pene Pati (Romeo), James Cresswell (Friar Lawrence) and Nadine Sierra (Juliet)
© Cory Weaver /San Francisco Opera

On October 1st, Juliet will be sung by the Egyptian-born New Zealand soprano, Amina Edris, in a role debut. Ms Edris – also a graduate of the Merola Opera Program and an Adler Fellow – and Pene Pati will appear as a husband and wife duo.

This production also features baritone Lucas Meachem as Mercutio – a role he has previously performed with the Metropolitan Opera – and tenor Daniel Montenegro, another former Adler Fellow, as Tybalt. The cast includes bass James Creswell as Friar Lawrence, baritone Timothy Mix as Capulet, bass-baritone Philip Skinner as the Duke of Verona and, in their Company debuts, mezzo-sopranos Stephanie Lauricella as Stéphano and Eve Gigliotti as Gertude.

San Francisco Opera’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

This staging of Romeo and Juliet premiered in 2012 – a co-production of Genoa’s Teatro Carlo Felice and Opéra de Monte-Carlo. Director Jean-Louis Grinda – who has directed over 50 operas and musicals – has been the Director of Opéra Monte Carlo since 2009, the Director of Chorégies d’Orange since 2016, and is Co-Founder of Les Musiciens du Prince with Cecilia Bartoli. He says: “To ensure this drama of absolute love touches every spectator, we respect its original setting and gracefully simplify its scenographic presentation. Without being minimalistic, we suggest Renaissance splendor and leave the imagination to work, focusing the attention on the stage artists.” Sets are by Eric Chevalier, costumes by Carola Volles, and lighting by Roberto Venturini.

Yves Abel is currently Chief Conductor of the NordwestDeutsche Philarmonie, and held the position of Principal Guest Conductor of the Deutsche Oper Berlin from 2005 to 2011. He regularly appears at opera houses such as the Metropolitan Opera, Royal Opera Covent Garden, La Scala, Milan, Vienna Staatsoper, Opera National de Paris and Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona.  

San Francisco Opera’s seven performances of Romeo and Juliet – sung in French with English subtitles – take place at the War Memorial Opera House between September 6th and October 1st. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Opera website

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Opera program notes


Pene Pati

Nadine Sierra

Jean-Louis Grinda

Yves Abel

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