If the rest of San Francisco Opera's season is as good as the company's current offering of Verdi's Il Trovatore I may have to surrender and admit defeat in my Sisyphean campaign against David Gockley's vision for the company. Of course one opera doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things, but this cast and production, borrowed from Chicago Lyric and the Met, delivered one of the best evenings the house has seen in the recent years. What else can one say when Dmitri Hvorostovsky was the weakest link among the four leads?

First and foremost, the evening belonged to Sondra Radvanovsky who proved that her mesmerizing performance in LA Opera's Suor Angelica last year was no fluke. After tonight, she's entered the short list of singers I'd see in anything, just because they're in it. Her "D'amor sull'ali rose" brought tears to more than one eye in the house, and that was just one high point in a performance that began flawlessly and never wavered. Her control and technique are devastating. Her voice filled the hall with a refulgent beauty before spinning out into gossamer thin notes that held everything clearly in the air . The last time a soprano brought it like this to the War Memorial was when Ruth Ann Swenson sang Violetta.

That's not to say that mezzo Stephanie Blythe was exactly willing to be upstaged. She delivered a potent Azucena that would have completely stolen the show had Radvanovsky not been there. Her "Stride la vampa" was like a blood oath. Blythe's performance was riveting, though I thought her final moments were misdirected.

Marco Berti, the only one of the leads I haven't seen before, was excellent, and his two arias in the third act were sung beautifully, though without the high C at the end of "O teco almeno corro a morir" for those readers who care about such things (yes I'm talking to you Hank Labarcon!). He's a true Italian-style tenor and it would be a treat to have Berti and Radvanovsky paired in a verismo like Cav or Andrea Chenier.

Which brings us to the Siberian. Dmitri Hvorostovsky is one of the most magnetic presences in all of opera. The looks, the hair, the voice, the build. He's like James Bond- when he's onstage it's hard to take your eyes off of him and yet tonight it just wasn't all there. His voice wasn't as strong and while usually he can convey a lot by using less than anyone else around him, in this production it strangely didn't work at many points. Perhaps this is because everyone else on stage were singing their asses off or maybe the Count really isn't the right role for him. To me this was all the more surprising because I thought he was going to own the night- maybe not easily, but who expects Hvorostovsky to be the last horse across the line? {Hvorostovsky had a better night later in the run- see second helpings}

The supporters were all fine, especially Burak Bilgili's Fernando. Adlers Renee Tatum and Andrew Bidlack did themselves proud. The chorus was a brawny, lusty and lascivious lot whose fighting onstage was especially well-choreographed by Leah Hausman.

The orchestra sounded fine, especially during the "anvil chorus" and the final act, though I still think at this point Luisotti's apprearances here haven't justified the hype he's received.

The set by Charles Edwards, featuring a massive revolving wall that manged to never look quite the same as it rotated around the stage, featured a vanishing point staircase that was transfixing from where we were seated on the left side of the orchestra. It's the finest-looking set I've seen during the Gockley era. If SFO needs to borrow productions from other companies to get stages that look this good then so be it- I can live with that for awhile. This one is worth your time and if you're short this month there's going to be a free simulcast at that place where the Giants play baseball, whatever its name is this season.