San Francisco Opera's 2019 Summer Seasons June 5–29, War Memorial Opera House

Release date: 2/7/2019    


Bizet's Carmen in Staging by Francesca Zambello Starring J'Nai Bridges; Handel's Orlando Updated to WWII Era by Director Harry Fehr with Sasha Cooke in Title Role; Dvořák’s Rusalka in David McVicar Production Conducted by Eun Sun Kim and Starring Rachel Willis-Sørensen


Countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen Makes Company Debut as Medoro in Orlando, Replacing David Daniels

Icelandic Bass Kristinn Sigmundsson Performs Vodník in Rusalka, Substituting for Ferruccio Furlanetto

Michelle Merrill Takes to the Podium for Carmen on June 20; James Gaffigan Conducts All Other Carmen Performances 

Summer 2019 Updated.pdf  Photos Available

Beginning June 5 and continuing through the 29th, San Francisco Opera presents a trio of extraordinary lyric works—Georges Bizet’s Carmen, George Frideric Handel’s Orlando and Antonín Dvořák’s Rusalka—featuring powerful leading women in the title roles. Spanning three centuries and sung in French, Italian and Czech, the 2019 Summer Season repertory will occasion the Company debuts of four conductors, including two women, in productions that are new to the War Memorial Opera House stage. Some casting updates for the repertory were announced today and additional casting of supporting roles will be released at a future date.

Performing the title heroines in the 2019 Summer Season operas, each for the first time, are: mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges as the fiercely independent Carmen; mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke taking on Orlando, a role originally composed for the castrato Senesino; and Rachel Willis-Sørensen portraying the water nymph Rusalka. The Company’s roster of conductors will be expanded with the debuts of James Gaffigan, Eun Sun Kim, Michelle Merrill and Christopher Moulds.

In a casting update for Orlando, countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen makes his Company and role debuts as Medoro, replacing David Daniels. The Brooklyn-born, second-year San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow quickly rose to prominence after being named a Grand Finals Winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 2017. The New York Times commented, “There were several good singers onstage Sunday afternoon … but there was only one complete artist. At just 23, Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen … already possesses a remarkable gift for intimate communication.” Recently recognized in the 2019 GRAMMY® Award nominations, Nussbaum Cohen’s upcoming engagements include David in Handel’s Saul with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, the world premiere of choreographer Yuri Possokhov’s “… two united in a single soul …” with San Francisco Ballet and the release of his debut solo album with American Bach Soloists.

Icelandic bass Kristinn Sigmundsson returns to San Francisco Opera to perform the role of Vodník in Rusalka, replacing Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto who decided, after further consideration, not to add the role to his repertory. Sigmundsson made his Company debut in 2003 as Méphistophélès in Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust and has returned to perform leading roles with the Company in works by Mozart, Strauss, Verdi and Wagner. His portrayal of Vodník at the Metropolitan Opera was praised by the New York Times as “a Water Gnome of dramatic range and gravitas.”

Due to a scheduling conflict for American conductor James Gaffigan, who makes his Company opera conducting debut with Carmen, Michelle Merrill will take to the podium for the June 20 performance of Bizet’s work in her Company debut; Gaffigan conducts the other six performances as previously announced. A talented young conductor with extensive orchestral experience, including guest appearances with Orchestre National d’Île-de-France, the National Symphony Orchestra, Toronto Symphony Orchestra and four years as Associate Conductor of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Merrill currently serves as the newly-appointed Music Director of the Coastal Symphony of Georgia.

Merrill is one of two female conductors to join San Francisco Opera’s roster this season. Eun Sun Kim makes her Company debut leading the San Francisco Opera Orchestra in Rusalka. Well-known for her performances in Europe at Staatsoper Berlin, Frankfurt Opera, Munich’s Bavarian State Opera and Dresden’s Semperoper, the fast-rising South Korean maestra made her American debut in 2017 leading Verdi’s La Traviata at Houston Grand Opera, an engagement that led to her appointment as the company’s Principal Guest Conductor. In 2018, Kim led Verdi’s Requiem at the Cincinnati May Festival, becoming the first female conductor in the choral festival’s 145-year history.

The 2019 Summer Season opens with director Francesca Zambello’s production of Carmen (June 5–29). The popular French work about a free-spirited woman and her besotted lover stars mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges in her professional role debut as the title heroine and tenor Matthew Polenzani performing Don José for the first time in his career. Romanian soprano Anita Hartig makes her Company debut as Michaëla and bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen is the bullfighter, Escamillo.

General Director at the Glimmerglass Festival and longtime San Francisco Opera collaborator, Zambello commented on working with Bridges in 2011: “At Glimmerglass, I began offering a family performance of one of the operas with a cast of young artists. J’Nai Bridges essayed the role of Carmen in one of those family performances and her singing was already memorable, as were her animal stage instincts. I am thrilled to see the wonderful arc of J’Nai’s career and for us to be rejoined as she makes her professional debut in this role.”

Handel’s Orlando (June 9–27) will be unveiled in a bold production by English director Harry Fehr which sets Ariosto’s mythic romance in London during The Blitz of the Second World War. Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke makes her highly-anticipated role debut as the warrior Orlando, here envisioned as a fighter pilot who is mentally tormented by battle trauma and an immoderate passion for his lover, Angelica. Soprano Heidi Stober adds Angelica to her repertory of Handelian roles, Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen is Medoro and Austrian soprano Christina Gansch makes her American debut as Dorinda. Bass-baritone and 2018 Richard Tucker Award recipient Christian Van Horn is Zoroastro, the doctor who helps Orlando navigate his mental anguish. English conductor Christopher Moulds leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra in his first engagement with the Company.

Rusalka (June 16–28), Antonín Dvořák’s enchanting 1901 fairytale about a water nymph who trades her voice for love, returns to the War Memorial Opera House stage in a “thoughtfully conceived and brilliantly executed” (Chicago Tribune) production by director David McVicar. In her first portrayal of the title role, soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen heads a star-studded cast that includes tenor Brandon Jovanovich as the Prince, mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton as the witch Ježibaba, Kristinn Sigmundsson as Vodník and soprano Sarah Cambidge as the Foreign Princess.

In the midst of the summer repertory season, San Francisco Opera will host the annual conference of OPERA America, the service organization dedicated to supporting the presentation of opera, from June 12–16. Industry professionals from opera companies around North America will converge on the city for sessions, panel discussions and special events. For more information about the conference, visit

*For the complete press release, including calendar and casting details, please view the attached PDF.