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C California Style

Costume sketch for Yeshua.
A model of the stage set for the holy land.
Costume sketch for a member of the chorus.

Man of the Hour

by C California Style

This season, for opera superstar Nathan Gunn, there’s something about Mary.

The modern baritone or tenor looks as attractive as he sounds. What’s more, it’s not unusual to see one scantily clad on the cover of Opera News, shirtless and smoldering. Nathan Gunn is definitely part of the new world order of male opera stars. But Gunn is known for more than just his physical attributes; the Indiana-born baritone is a regular at the Metropolitan Opera and on Broadway, and characters such as Papageno in The Magic Flute and the title role in Billy Budd are ownedby him. At 42, Gunn, the director of the newly formed American Repertoire Council in Philadelphia, which is dedicated to commissioning American operas, appears in an exciting new contemporary work this June. “I believe opera in its own right can be the most powerful art form on the planet,” Gunn says. “And I believe opera needs to become relevant and sometimes controversial.”

Controversial would be the optimal word. The SF Opera premiere of Mary Magdalene, a brand-new commission by composer-librettist Mark Adamo, springs from the traditional and Gnostic gospels and takes the story along a Da Vinci Code journey, with Gunn originating the role of Yeshua (aka Jesus). For Adamo, pushing the envelope is a natural piece of the process. “La Traviata was the Sweeney Todd of its time,” explains Adamo. “The more theatrical, the more engaging, the more human, the more musical it can be, the more political it can be.”

Adamo wasn’t sure how Gunn would react to Yeshua since he comes from a strong Anglican tradition, but after the first meeting, Gunn texted Adamo: “I am won over.” We’ll see if audiences feel the same way this summer. For those hoping to see some skin, yes, there is a sex scene. “I get oiled,” Gunn says, laughing. “Anointed! Anointed!” Adamo rebuts. June 19-July 7; 415-864-3330; sfopera.com.

Written and edited by Elizabeth Khuri Chandler