Italian tenor Salvatore Licitra just made his San Francisco debut, and his role debut, as Dick Johnson (giggle) in La Fanciulla del West with the SF Opera. It's an A-list cast, with Deborah Voigt as Minnie, and maestro Nicola Luisotti conducting. The opera takes place during the Gold Rush somewhere in the Sierra foothills, and Licitra arrives on stage at the drinking hole, asking for his bourbon with water. "Oh, he must be from San Francisco," react the rough miners who don't dilute their drinks. Are we being called pansies by an opera composer who named his character after watching Austin Powers?

Salvatore plays a robber who steals the heart of Minnie, the lone girl in the gold mine, only to be caught by the sheriff, then saved by a white horse riding Minnie. And the reviews of the show came in overwhelmingly positive: the Chronicle liked that ... tenor Salvatore Licitra also came into his own in that short final act. "Ch'ella mi creda libero e lontano," in which he asks the miners not to tell Minnie of his ignominious demise, emerged with a full flourishing of lyricism... Steven Winn at SFCV gave him his high mark: The winning hand went to [Licitra] on opening night. In a suave and compelling performance, Licitra used his sumptuous timbre, liquid phrasing, and effortless vocal heft to bring the part to vital musical life.

With all this talent, he's generous with his interview time (and you can hear him on NPR here), so we were excited to converse with him over the phone. There are four more performances of the show.