Thursday, August 16, 2007

San Francisco Opera Fall Preview

This fall marks General Director David Gockley's first season that he can call his own, and on paper it looks fascinating, with a mixture of new productions created for this season and tried-and-true productions from around the world.

The opening night opera, Saint-Saens' "Samson and Delilah," is the only production that isn't new to San Francisco. They are using the kitschy, fabulous, Cecil B. DeMille meets Irwin Allen sets by Douglas Schmidt that date from 1976 when it premiered here with Placido Domingo and Shirley Verrett. It's a perfect "Opening Night" opera in that there are plenty of pretty tunes, it's not very long, and there are two intermissions for socializing, which is really what opening night is all about. Olga Borodina, the great Russian diva, sang it here in 2001 and peeled the paint off the back walls with her plush, monster mezzo. Though I'm not all that enamored of her Rossini singing, this role is perfect for her. Debuting as Samson is a tenor from Tennessee, Clifton Forbis, who has been singing lots of Tristans and Florestans all over the world in the last decade.

The next two operas are where it gets interesting. Wagner's early (1845) opera, "Tannhauser" is being given in a new production that's being built in San Francisco which is being directed by the new genius opera director from Britain, Graham Vick, in his San Francisco debut. This will not be the dumb, literal version that ex-General Director Lotfi Mansouri produced in the early 1990s, for which we can thank the heavens. The tenor Peter Seiffert is also making his San Francisco debut in the insanely difficult title role, which he sang earlier this year in a production in Los Angeles with the debuting Petra Maria Schnitzer as Elizabeth. The reviews I've read have praised the two singers to the skies while thoroughly trashing the silly LA production.

This will be followed by a commissioned world premiere opera by Philip Glass, "Appomattox," which will be a major event no matter whether the piece turns out to be a masterpiece, a disaster, or something in between. Especially exciting is the San Francisco debut of conductor Dennis Russell Davies, a longtime Glass advocate, and one of the major founders of the Cabrillo Music Festival in Santa Cruz.

Next up is Mozart's "The Magic Flute," which I adore on recordings (Klemperer with all the dialogue taken out is definitely my favorite), but which bores the hell out of me in the theater. Still, it's probably worth checking out to see the highly praised 1993 Peter Hall production designed by the English cartoonist Gerald Scarfe which has been presented at Covent Garden and Los Angeles for the last decade.

The soprano superstar Angela Gheorghiu, showing off major cleavage on signage all over town, is finally debuting in San Francisco in a 2002 Covent Garden production of Puccini's rarely performed "La Rondine." As a friend who works at the opera once told me, when operas are "rarely performed," there's often a good reason for it, but it will be interesting to finally see the piece, and Angela's counterpart will be Ukranian tenor Misha Didyk who is always a pleasure.

Verdi's "Macbeth" starring the great baritone Thomas Hampson arrives in a 2001 production from the Zurich Opera that's been filmed and put onto DVD. According to a review I found online (click here), this is one of the greatest productions of The Scottish Opera imaginable. This will be followed by a new production of Stravinsky's "The Rake's Progress," directed by the Quebec theatrical genius Robert Lepage, set in the luxurious fleshpots of Southern California. The production has already been performed in Brussels and Lyon earlier this year, and will travel on to Covent Garden and Madrid after its stopover here. For reviews of the Lyon and Brussels performances, click here and here. They tend to love the production, but not the performers, which shouldn't be a problem for us since the San Francisco cast is strong from top to bottom with William Burden, Laura Aikin, Denyce Graves, and James Morris.

For those who didn't happen to catch last summer's "Madama Butterfly" with Patricia Racette and Zheng Cao, there's going to be a week-long set of performances in December. Marie Plette is sharing the Butterfly duties, but you definitely want to buy a ticket for Racette because it's an extraordinary performance. Plus, you'll get to see me as a veiled ninja stagehand, and maybe this time it won't be totally terrifying since I'll actually have rehearsed (click here for that story).


AlbGlinka said...

So I crawled through a trap door in the wall on my knees across the rubber earth hurt and was friggin' claustrophobic getting on and offstage. I haven't yet found which Deadly Sin is going to be carved out of my chest and back.

It was great seeing you at the rehearsal!

Ahh, Opera. (Specifically: Tannhauser.)

pjwv said...

I thought they were doing the Sendak production of the Magic Flute -- did they switch? I saw the Gerald Scarfe production a couple of years ago in Washington DC -- it's delightful.

sfmike said...

Dear Patrick: They did switch from the previously announced Sendak production.

pjwv said...

Thanks for the info -- funny how they publicize some changes and not others, or am I just too drugged on decongestants? I'd better warn a Sendak-lover I know who wanted to go based on the production.

sfphoneguy said...

I too will be a crawler in Tannhauser, and did my first crawl at the rehearsal last night, although for me, creeping through the tiny doorway to get to the foamy stage isn't so bad, as I do similar undignified crawling under people's houses from time to time when I have to run phone wires. Actually, doing it on stage is easier for me 'cause I don't have to shlep a bag full of tools with me, and at least there's fabulous music too, and (so far) no rat corpses or rogue spiders to dodge.

Then I have to walk across the stage on my knees, which I haven't done since Damnation of Faust..... What we do for art!

sfmike said...

Hey, crawlers, we get a real live horse in our scene. Whoa!

Matty Boy said...

Ooh! Giant cleavage belonging to a brunette with a wild mane of hair! Nice of you to throw me a bone, sfmike, knowing my proclivities as you do.

momo said...

You all are so fortunate to be within reach of these performances. Out here in Minneapolis we have a respectable opera season, but it just ain't the same.

sfmike said...

Dear momo: You're absolutely right. The opera company in San Francisco is one of the odd treasures and joys of this city and not enough people know about it or understand how cool and exciting it can be.

Henry Holland said...

As a friend who works at the opera once told me, when operas are "rarely performed," there's often a good reason for it

Nah, don't agree with that at all. I can think of at least a dozen operas off the top of my head that are incredible pieces but they either require 120 piece orchestras + huge chorus + singers that are booked until 2015 to sing Tristan, Isolde and Turandot or they really require major league voices who are busy singing....Tristan, Isolde and Turandot or the piece is not really all that accessible to enough people to put enough butts in the seat to make it worthwhile or, in the case of Dukas' Ariane et Barbe Bleu, requires a type of mezzo voice that doesn't really exist anymore.

St. Francois de Assise is a perfect example of what I mean (that'd be the 120 piece orchestra etc. category!).

Pretty dull season for me in San Francisco, but at least they're finally doing Die Tote Stadt next year (another "rarely performed opera" because the two lead roles are killer).

At least here in Los Angeles we get Jenufa with Mattila and the third (?) revival of the Hockney Tristan in addition to the first installment of James Conlon's Recovered Voices project, this season it's Zemlinsky's Der Zwerg/Ullman's The Jug; I can't wait for Schreker's Die Gezeichneten, Die Tote Stadt and Braunfel's glorious Die Vogel in coming seasons.

When is the new SFO Ring supposed to start?