Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Now We Know

San Francisco Opera unveiled its 2010-11 season yesterday - well, the part we didn't know about, since the Summer 2011 Ring cycles are in no way a secret - and now we know the real reason they canceled the press conference: to keep me from falling on the floor and wailing in public.

Honestly, I understand that we're in the middle of a terrible economic situation and that everyone is consequently petrified about ticket sales, but David Gockley and Nicola Luisotti apparently think they can
only sell tickets to warhorses. I don't buy that for a second. For one thing, people like me, who've seen the warhorses enough times, already, are going to stay away in droves.

Here's the lineup, with the number of performances of each opera.

Aida: 12 performances (two conductors, two casts)

Butterfly: 12 performances (title role split between Svetla Vassileva and Daniela Dessi)

Ring cycle: 3 cycles plus one freestanding performance each of Siegfried and Goetterdaemmerung (that's 14 performances total).

Nozze: 9 performances. (Luca Pisaroni, Lucas Meachan, Danielle de Niese, Ellie Dehn, and various other people)

Werther: 6 performances. (Vargas, Garanca)

Makropoulos Case: 6 performances. (Mattila, Dvorsky)

Cyrano de Bergerac: 7 performances (Domingo)

It's apparent that significant savings can be achieved by having more performances of fewer operas - that's why more than a third of the season is devoted to Aida and the ever-present Butterfly. Twenty-four performances of the two of them! Those performances could have been split up some other way (8 of each plus 8 of some third opera), but then there would be the additional rehearsal time, cost of director, production, etc., etc.

Of these, I'm willing to buy tickets to Makropoulos, Cyrano, and Werther, but that's about it. If Aida gets good reviews, I'll pick up a single or go standing room; the previous two SFO productions were not well sung.

I didn't put in for the Ring because of the extortionate required donations. Not that I'd get seats, anyway because I haven't subscribed to the opera in several years. (No one from the opera has ever asked me why!) Oh, well. Maybe I'll catch the controversial Los Angeles Ring instead. Or save my pennies for a trip to Bayreuth.


Anonymous said...

so... why haven't you subscribed to the SF Opera in several years?

Lisa Hirsch said...

I meant, and should have said, no one from the opera company has ever asked me why I stopped subscribe after, I think nine or ten years of regular subscriptions and donations. The really short version might be "bile." The longer version, well, most season I don't want to see everything (this is Butterfly's seventh appearance since 1995), and there is never a short series consisting only of operas I want to see.

You might think the do-it-yourself subscription is the solution. In theory, yes. But the do-it-yourself subscribers, even if they're renewing, are in the queue for seats after new subscribers.

There's a reason for this, which is that if you have a regular subscription, you're guaranteed the same seat for all operas on the subscription. So all regular subscribers need to get their seats before the do-it-yourselfers.

In other words, I could get a do-it-yourself subscription for ten years and still be in the ticket queue behind new subscribers, who have no seniority at all.

I now do business with the opera on a limited basis: I attend on a combination of standing room tickets, discount tickets when they're offered, and the occasional full-priced seat. I donate very little. It's a financial loss to SFO, for sure. In the 90s and early 2000s I donated at the voting patron level.

I'm just past the point where I'm willing to pay a lot of money to see standard repertory operas I've seen several times. This year is typical: I'd like a subscription with Cyrano, Makropoulos Case, and Werther, but none of the four-opera subscriptions have all three, even if I take one or two operas more. You have to take out a full sub to get them. I might get the cheapest possible complete subscription I can and give away the Butterfly and Nozze tickets.

I'm sorry to be missing the complete Ring, but I'm told the inexpensive seats are sold out for all three cycles, and I'm not prepared to pony up for expensive seats. I'll see Walkuere in June and presumably that's it.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Oh, and I occasionally have reviewer tickets.

Henry Holland said...

For once, the scheduling gods have smiled on me and I can do a Cyrano > Makropulos > Butterfly weekend.

I found out today that the Bard Musicfest is doing Schreker's Der Ferne Klang, the first staged US production. So, another trip to ravishing Annandale-on-Hudson and this time, nothing at Santa Fe to angst about (I'm still kicking myself for choosing King Roger at Bard over Adriana Mater).

Brian said...

Good for you. I couldn't agree more. Sadly, I think I'm only waiting for Domingo to come back from New York to essentially have the same (if not worse) experience in LA when they announce.

I'm with you on Makropoulus and Werther. I never tire of Nozze, but the cast is iffy considering the de Niese is pretty overrated from what I've seen of her. I'll probably see Cyrano just to say I have and cross it off the "haven't seen" list forever.

What's even worse (though economically understandable) is that again, there is nothing in the schedule that is actually both new and unique to SF other than Gotterdammerung which will have that distinction only because WNO choked in the home stretch. The shell game of borrowing productions is a reasonable thing to do. It just doesn't leave much to be said for an identity for the company in the longer run. Money is now clearly being spent on big star talent above all else.

Anonymous said...

"people like me, who've seen the warhorses enough times, already, are going to stay away in droves."

You won't get any argument from me on that. And yet, they're probably right: the warhorses will sell more tickets.

It's the same phenomenon as "Nobody goes there any more: it's too crowded."

Lisa Hirsch said...

I'm not convinced that they can sell out 12 each of Aida and Butterfly. That's 36,000 of each.

I've seen Nozze five times in the last 12 years and while I would also have said I never tire of it, it seems I want a break for a few years. I have the same worry about de Niese, though I have not heard her.

It is possibly more than a semantic difference that several of next season's operas are called "co-productions," meaning that we do have artistic input into the production, as opposed to simply renting someone else's.

doug said...

Oh Lisa. I so agree. It is a heart breaking season of staggering boredom. And then even the productions of Opera's Greatest Hits aren't interesting ones. For me, if I have to see Aida or Buttercrash, I'd sure like it to be a thought provoking production. Ah well. I wish SFO well and guess I'll have ticket and donation money left over for organizations doing more interesting things. It will be interesting to see what Cal Performances announces given the first full season by the new guy.

Lisa Hirsch said...

The Aidas I have seen in person have been badly-sung enough that if this one gets good reviews, I'll go, but...right now I'm probably getting a short subscription that has Cyrano and either Werther or Makropoulos, and I'll get a single for the other. The Janacek will not sell out even though Mattila is going to be sensational as EM.

doug said...

Yes, those are the three to see. I'm bummed that, as you pointed out, the smaller season packs don't include those three. The Janacek is a must. I've never seen and I'm especially excited. I also don't care about having the same seats and wish they'd let us do the Make Your Own season now instead of end of the line. But I digress into fantasy...

Lisa Hirsch said...

Lucky you, first time seeing Makropoulos. It's a great piece!