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An opera star in the neighborhood

Tenor David Cangelosi, a guest artist with SF Opera, on Sacramento Street.


International opera singer David Cangelosi has been subletting an apartment in the neighborhood since April, when he began rehearsals with San Francisco Opera for Richard Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle: four operas over three evenings and one afternoon each week for three weeks. Cangelosi, a tenor, sings in the first opera, Das Rheingold, which opens on June 12, and the third, Siegfried, opening on June 15, and will perform on the two following Tuesday and Friday nights.

What brought you to the neighborhood?

Artists are more and more these days in charge of finding our own accommodations. I started coming to San Francisco almost 20 years ago and usually stayed closer to the Civic Center. I thought this is a beautiful city, with a lot of diverse and interesting neighborhoods. A number of colleagues have stayed here and raved about it. The unit is like the top of a dollhouse. It’s on top of the hill at Presidio and California, with a spectacular view facing east as you wake up in the morning and as the sun goes down. It’s like a little bird’s nest, just exquisite.

What’s a typical day like?

We often start rehearsing at 10 a.m., and since I rise early, I go to one of my favorite locations in the neighborhood, the Jewish Community Center, for a workout. One lovely thing about the apartment is that one room flows beautifully into the other, so there’s a nice through-line from the bedroom through the living room into the kitchen and out the door. I go back to the apartment, pick up the few things I need, and continue to flow my way to the Opera House to rehearse. During that 40- or 50-minute walk, I warm up my opera voice, which garners a few strange looks.

Maybe you’re not the only one singing on the street.

Yes, lots of people talk to themselves on the street. Sometimes people will start singing along with me, with whatever crazy warmup I’m doing; some people will try to imitate me. One of San Francisco’s homeless got up and danced a little bit, and I started dancing with him. But usually it’s just looking or smiling. These vocal exercises really aren’t very pretty; they’re meant to warm up your instrument and stretch it in various ways. As we shift closer to performances, we’ll start rehearsing closer to evening, because we have to transition to nighttime singing.

How would you describe your role in the Ring Cycle?

Mime is the downtrodden brother of the opera’s main antagonist, Alberich. In Das Rheingold, he turns the gold his brother steals from the Rheinmaidens into the ring everyone pursues. He is also charged with driving the action in Siegfried by raising Siegfried from a baby to a powerful young adult he intends on using to regain the magic ring. He never leaves the stage for 90 minutes and has a wonderful death scene. It is the most towering role in all of opera for someone like myself. I’m a very specialized kind of character tenor. I do unusual personages, everything from romantics to evildoers or interlocutors and comedic characters. You need a wide variety of acting skills to do the roles I do, as well as athletic and dancing skills. It’s like being a utility baseball player; you have to be able to play every position.

What are you doing in your free time?

I like to become part of the fabric of the neighborhood. Right next door is a great breakfast place, Ella’s. I like strolling down to Mollie Stone’s, strolling up to Bryan’s or Trader Joe’s. I love b. patisserie and Smitten Ice Cream and Yum Yum Hunan — I was just there last night — and all the little bars and restaurants along Fillmore.

Around Presidio Heights, a favorite place is the public library, a beautiful building in a beautiful setting. One block farther on Sacramento are all these beautiful trattorias and interesting art and antique and furniture stores. There’s a wonderful place called Wisteria, with decorative prints in the window. And the Vogue, a classic old movie house. We see few of these anymore, so when I see one, I always like to patronize it.

“I love b. patisserie,” says visiting tenor David Cangelosi.