Release date: 6/6/2013

San Francisco Opera Presents the World Premiere of The Gospel of Mary Magdalene with Music and Libretto by Mark Adamo

Starring Sasha Cooke as Mary Magdalene and Nathan Gunn as Yeshua June 19-July 7, War Memorial Opera House

Related Ancillary Events, Pre-Performance Lectures and Post-PerformanceTalk-Backs Encourage Audience Discussion and Exploration

Photos Available
San Francisco Opera presents the world premiere of The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, with music and libretto by Mark Adamo, opening June 19, 2013 and running for seven performances through July 7. Mary Magdalene was long dismissed as a minor figure in Christian lore until, in 1948, archaeologists discovered a trove of alternate versions of the Gospels that argued she may not only have been Jesus’ closest companion, but also his most respected and esteemed disciple. The resulting controversy has inspired and inflamed Western culture for the past sixty years. Now Mark Adamo, the composer-librettist of the internationally acclaimed operas Little Women and Lysistrata, approaches the debate with a new grand-scale opera.
Commissioned by San Francisco Opera, the opera stars Sasha Cooke as Mary Magdalene and Nathan Gunn as Yeshua (Jesus).  The resplendent cast also features soprano Maria Kanyova as Miriam (the mother of Yeshua) and William Burden as the apostle Peter.  Director Kevin Newbury, lauded for his “imagination and emotional nuance” (The New York Times), and conductor Michael Christie both make their San Francisco Opera debuts with this production.  
Unlike stories such as The Da Vinci Code, which is based on medieval myth, The Gospel of Mary Magdalene is supported by six years of Adamo’s own research into ancient texts and modern biblical scholarship.  Adamo has written a libretto that scrutinizes Christian scripture and transforms it into an alternate history of sorts.  Played out through human characters struggling with the role of sexuality in a patriarchal world, the opera reimagines a neglected, yet pivotal, female character who was traditionally (and erroneously) labeled as a prostitute but who, amidst the contentious religious politics of the time, was able to show Jesus the moral dignity of women.  Composed for a cast of 25 solo roles, a chorus of 48, and an orchestra of 65 in two acts, The Gospel of Mary Magdalene marks Adamo’s debut with San Francisco Opera.
Mark Adamo says of his composition: “No Gospel was written as history. But every gospel––not only those included in the New Testament––contains fragments of the history of Jesus of Nazareth and of those who followed him. In 2007 I wondered: could you develop from those fragments a credibly human original version of the story that we know only through its later, magical embellishments? In such a new New Testament, might its women characters speak as eloquently as its men?  (The Gnostic Gospels suggest as much.) And might such a story gain, rather than lose, nobility, breadth, passion, nerve, if––instead of the usual saints, angels, and sinners––it centered on human beings making momentous decisions guided only by  painful experience, moral intuition, and the light they have to see by?  The Gospel of Mary Magdalene is my answer."
American mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke makes her San Francisco Opera debut as Mary Magdalene in this production. Last month Cooke appeared as soprano soloist in the San Francisco Symphony’s performances of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, which the San Francisco Chronicle described as “magical” and “luminous.” Also of that performance, the San Jose Mercury News wrote, “Flanking Tilson Thomas were four soloists, all excellent—though a special ‘hosanna’ must go out to mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, whose singing of ‘miserere nobis’ (‘have mercy upon us’) in the ‘Agnus Dei’ was like an expanding column of pure concentrated sound. It was soulfully unnerving, shaking your inners, bringing to mind the likes of Callas and Coltrane. Wow.”
American baritone Nathan Gunn creates the role of Yeshua, following past appearances at San Francisco Opera as Papageno in The Magic Flute, Guglielmo in Così fan tutte, Figaro in The Barber of Seville and in the title role of Billy Budd. Of his April 2013 performances at Dallas Opera as the Lodger in Dominick Argento’s The Aspern Papers opposite Sasha Cooke as Sonia, the Dallas Morning News wrote, “Nathan Gunn perfectly balances solidity and urgency as the Lodger, dispensing a chocolately-rich baritone.” In 2014 Gunn will reprise the role of Papageno at the Metropolitan Opera and will return to San Francisco to appear as Gaylord Ravenal in the Company premiere of Show Boat.
Maria Kanyova returns to San Francisco Opera as Miriam, the mother of Yeshua.  The soprano most recently appeared in the Bay Area as Pat Nixon in last summer’s triumphant production of John Adams’ Nixon in China. In that role her performance was described as “winningly lyrical” (San Francisco Chronicle) and “fresh-blooming” and “eloquent” (San Jose Mercury News). Tenor William Burden is the disciple Peter. Burden previously created the role of Dan Hill in San Francisco Opera’s world premiere of Christopher Theofanidis and Donna Di Novelli’s Heart of a Soldier with a “strong, clear tenor and an underlying toughness” (The Opera Critic).
This new production, with large-scale sets designed by David Korins, lighting designed by Christopher Maravich and colorful, historically based costumes designed by Constance Hoffman, is directed by Kevin Newbury. Showing a consistent commitment to rarely-performed and new works, Newbury has recently led such productions as the fully staged premiere of Lewis Spratlan’s Life is a Dream (Santa Fe Opera), a rare presentation of Saverio Mercadante’s Virginia (Wexford Festival) and the world premiere of Douglas J. Cuomo and John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt (Minnesota Opera). This summer he will be directing the world premiere of Theodore Morrison and John Cox’s Oscar at Santa Fe Opera. Of several of his recent engagements, Opera News wrote “Newbury’s thoughtfulness, his eye for detail, and his ability to frame the dramatic moment have made these three productions rewarding experiences. . . .Though each production had its own look, they have shared an evocative mix of abstraction and realism, along with a kind of monumentality in the design that never dwarfs the character of their relationships.”
This production features the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Ian Robertson, Director) and will be conducted by Michael Christie. Christie currently holds positions as music director of the Colorado Music Festival and Minnesota Opera and recently conducted the world premiere of Kevin Puts’ Silent Night at Minnesota Opera, which was awarded the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Music. The New York Times has described Christie as “fresh and adventurous” and “open to adventure and challenge.” This production marks Christie’s San Francisco Opera debut.
Bay Area Ancillary Activities
The world premiere of Mark Adamo’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene has inspired a host of ancillary events throughout the Bay Area that explore not only the making of the opera, but also a variety of related issues surrounding the fascinating figure of Mary Magdalene. San Francisco Opera has partnered with an array of cultural, religious and educational institutions throughout the Bay Area to present preview discussions with the opera’s cast and creative team members; seminars and workshops exploring the myths of Mary Magdalene and Mary Magdalene’s place in text, tradition, history and art; and numerous other events leading up to the opera’s premiere and beyond. Please visit for more information and event updates.
Pre-performance Lectures and Post-performance Discussions
Before every performance, pianist and KALW Radio host Sarah Cahill will present a 25-minute overview of the opera, with insights on the music, composer and historical background.
Free to ticketholders and take place in the theater of the War Memorial Opera House, 55 minutes prior to curtain.  For more information, visit Immediately following each performance, cultural historian and mythologist Kayleen Asbo will lead an engaging discussion open to all audience members to react to what they have seen and ask their own questions about who Mary Magdalene was and her place in our world. Free to ticketholders. For more information, visit
Michael Schwab Commemorative Artwork
San Francisco Opera has commissioned famed Bay Area artist Michael Schwab to create an original artwork commemorating the world premiere of The Gospel of Mary Magdalene by Mark Adamo. The striking artwork will be available as a limited edition poster and will also be featured on the cover of the Company's The Gospel of Mary Magdalene performance magazine. This marks the third consecutive year  Schwab has collaborated with San Francisco Opera to create artwork based on the Company’s notable opera productions, following 2011’s Der Ring des Nibelungen and 2012’s Nixon in China.

The poster is printed on archival fine art paper and is available through the San Francisco Opera Shop at the War Memorial Opera House and online at A limited number of framed posters will also be available for purchase at the Opera Shop, open during performances.

From his studio in Marin County, Michael Schwab has established a national reputation as one of America’s leading graphic artists. Dramatic in its simplicity, Schwab’s work is easily recognized by his signature use of large areas of color, dramatic perspectives and bold, graphic images of archetypal human forms. He has created award-winning images, posters and logos for numerous clients, including the Golden Gate National Parks, Major League Baseball, Robert Mondavi, Muhammad Ali, Nike, Robert Redford, and most recently, the poster for the America’s Cup 2013 in San Francisco.
Sung in English with English supertitles, the seven performances of The Gospel of Mary Magdalene are scheduled for June 19 (7:30 p.m.), June 22 (8 p.m.), June 25 (8 p.m.),
June 28 (8 p.m.), July 2 (7:30 p.m.), July 5 (8 p.m.) and July 7 (2 p.m.), 2013.
Tickets for performances of Adamo’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene at the War Memorial Opera House are priced from $22 to $340 and may be purchased at or through the San Francisco Opera Box Office [301 Van Ness Avenue (at Grove Street), or by phone at (415) 864-3330]. Standing Room tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance; tickets are $10 each, cash only.
The War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue at Grove Street. Patrons are encouraged to use public transportation to attend San Francisco Opera performances. The War Memorial Opera House is within walking distance of the Civic Center BART station and near numerous bus lines, including 5, 21, 47, 49 and the F Market Street. For more public transportation information, visit and
Casting, programs, schedules and ticket prices are subject to change. For further information about The Gospel of Mary Magdalene and San Francisco Opera’s Summer 2013 season, please visit