“Richard Nixon” and “hero” are terms that may not harmonize in the post-Watergate era, but John Adams’ opera Nixon in China casts the now-disgraced president in precisely that role. The account of Nixon’s 1972 summit with Chairman Mao deftly balances international politics with intimate sketches of the major players, set to a score that’s among the finest in American opera. All the more pity this work took so long to reach local audiences — and all the more reason to celebrate its SF Opera premiere tonight. Baritone Brian Mulligan debuts as Nixon; Lawrence Renes, who helped realize Adams’ 2005 Doctor Atomic, returns to conduct. The summer season continues apace with Verdi’s Attila and Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Attila boasts two stellar basses — Ferruccio Furlanetto as the titular Hun, and Samuel Ramey as Pope Leo I — and aims to cast another vilified historical figure in a less-unflattering light. Mozart’s beloved work brings lightheartedness to the lineup, with a vivid new production by visual artist Jun Kaneko and a cast that includes sought-after soprano Albina Shagimuratova as the Queen of the Night.
June 8-July 3, 8 p.m.; Thu., June 14; Sun., June 17; Fri., June 22; Tue., June 26; Sat., June 30; Tue., July 3, 2012