So the speculation was correct after all (and a big hat tip to Ching Chang, who had the inside dope way in advance). The San Francisco Opera today named Nicola Luisotti to succeed Donald Runnicles as the company's music director. He'll take over in 2009.
As far as one can tell with these things, this promises to be an excellent development all around. His 2005 company debut in La Forza del Destino — his only prior appearance here — was nothing short of amazing, he's an ebullient, likable fellow, and by all accounts the members of the Opera Orchestra and Chorus do like him and trust him. Course, they're also only going on the evidence of the one production, but that should tide everyone over until we see what else he can do.
The one cause for concern might be his range of repertoire, which doesn't seem to be very broad. The only non-Italian opera listed anywhere in his management bio is Carmen; for that matter, Pagliacci is the only other opera that isn't by Verdi or Puccini. He doesn't seem to have much knowledge of or interest in contemporary music. Runnicles was nine years younger when he got the nod, and he already had a much larger working repertoire.
Still, it's too soon to worry about that now. Anyone who can shape a performance like Luisotti's Forza — and inspire the confidence of the excellent but somewhat demoralized Opera Orchestra — can only be a force for good.
Now we just have to persuade his people to come up with a better mug shot. He's not Bela Lugosi, you know.