Tuesday, January 18, 2011

San Francisco Opera, 2011-12

So, the press release from SF Opera hit my in-box a while ago. It's glass-half-full time, for sure. Here's the lineup, with the conductor and cast in parentheses:
  • Turandot (Puccini); Luisotti; Theorin/Foster, Crocetto, Berti/Fraccaro, Aceto/Van Horn. Two runs, of 6 and 3 performances. 
  • Heart of a Soldier, (New opera by Christopher Theofinides); Summers/Hampson, Burden, Moore. 
  • Lucrezia Borgia (Donizetti); Riccardo Frizza/Fleming, DeShong, Meli, Kowaljow.
  • Don Giovanni (Mozart); Luisotti/Meachem, Dehn, Farnocchia, Lindsey, Lehtipuu, M. Vinco, Robinson. 
  • Xerxes, (Handel); Summers/Graham, Daniels, Prina, Stober, Oropesa, Tigges.
  • Carmen (Bizet); Luisotti/Aldrich, Arancam, Szot, Gartland.
  • Nixon in China (J.C. Adams); Renes/Mulligan, Kanyova, O'Neill, Lee, Yuan, Carfizzi.
  • Attila (Verdi); Luisotti/Furlanetto, Vargas/Toree, Dyka, Kelsey, Ramey (!).
  • The Magic Flute (Mozart); Rory Macdonald/Shrader/Peake, Stober, Gunn, Sigmundsson, Shagimuratova.
Many debuts, including three conductors and a bunch of singers I've never heard; many important returning artists, Renee Fleming's appearance being the biggest news. Lucas Meachem and Heidi Stober return in major starring roles, so they are, I presume, considered up-and-coming and worth cultivating. I loved Meachem in Forza and Die tote Stadt, liked Stober better in Radamisto in Santa Fe than in Werther.

There are four operas out of nine that I've never seen: Lucrezia Borgia, Nixon in China, Attila, and of course Heart of a Soldier, which is new and an SFO commission. Lucrezia has two drawbacks: it's by Donizetti, and I'm just not a Fleming fan. Still, I'll probably go; I loved Fille, beyond all expectation, and who knows? Perhaps Fleming will be on her best behavior.

Xerxes has a splendid cast; of course, I saw a great production by Berkeley Opera last fall, in a great seats for a price that would get me a Balcony Rear seat at SFO. I will probably go, because one doesn't often get the chance to compare two top-notch casts in a Handel opera.

Of the others...well, there are some puzzles here. Two Mozart operas, both done within the last few years in new-to-SFO productions, both getting different new-to-SFO productions. I don't understand that at all.

DG is being taken by Nicola Luisotti, so we can guess that, since we just had Nozze with him conducting, we'll have Cosi soon. The cast has no one who particularly interests me; besides, the last go-round was stupendous. As for Magic Flute, the singers who interest me most are Gunn (Pappageno) and Sigmundsson (Sarastro). Who goes to Flute for a great Pappageno or Sarastro? Not me, at these prices.

There's one oddity buried in the Magic Flutei casting. Melody Moore, one of the three principals in Heart of a Soldier, returns....as the First Lady. What? From a starring role to a bit part usually filled by an Adler Fellow? I speculate that she is covering either Pamina or Odabella in Attila.

Carmen? Sigh. I saw three of the four productions that have been done since 1995, I saw it at Berkeley Opera in there someplace, and since Conchita Supervia is not back from the dead, there's no way. It's only been a few years and it's much too soon.

Turandot? Well, that's trickier. It's been nine or ten years and I love the opera, at least, the parts Puccini wrote. But I'm not much into supporting cash cow productions; Marco Berti was a blot on Trovatore in 2009; Irene Theorin is an unknown quantity. And the last go-round was excellent, with Patricia Racette at her most beautiful, Jane Eaglen in good voice, and Jon Villars a fine Calaf.

So let's run the numbers:
  • Four cash-cow standards
  • One new opera, likely to be middle-of-the-road musically, and definitely of the in-the-news type
  • One modern classic
  • One bel canto rarity
  • One Verdi rarity (which Luisotti is conducting at La Scala Real Soon Now; in fact, we're sharing the production with them)
  • One Baroque rarity
In some sense, I suppose that's a reasonable distribution for a nine-opera season, except for the repetitiveness of the four cash cows. Wish we had, say, Elektra or Lohengrin in there instead of one of the Mozart operas. Or something by Zemlinsky or Shrecker. Or anything by Britten. And Carmen, again??

It makes you wonder, doesn't it, about that subscriber survey SFO sent out not long ago? Most of these operas were on the "would you go see these?" questions, even though, obviously, the season was already set in stone. Why ask so late? It seems...uh...cynical to me. It's not as if decisions could be made based on the results, though the opera might be able to take a stab at projecting ticket sales to subscribers.

Well, it's choose-your-own for me, this year. That will free up some money for Castleton Opera (Rape of Lucretia, Albert Herring), Los Angeles Opera (Turn of the Screw with Pat Racette), and a trip to a summer music festival to be named later. Will it be Bard Music Festival? Santa Fe Opera for Wozzeck with my man Richard Paul Fink? Wexford Opera? Tanglewood?


There's one other interesting item on the schedule, a December 3 gala concert in honor of the great Frederica von Stade, who is retiring after a long and important career. The concert is being presented in collaboration with PBO and a couple of other institutions. But....it's in Herbst Theater. I am absolutely certain that demand will far outstrip the ticket supply for this program: back in the Mansouri era, SFO sold out the 3200-seat opera house for the Marilyn Horne gala! Why Herbst? It is very strange.


Henry Holland said...

Of the others...well, there are some puzzles here. Two Mozart operas, both done within the last few years in new-to-SFO productions, both getting different new-to-SFO productions. I don't understand that at all

A few years ago, I got a call at work from someone at LA Opera trying to sell subscriptions. My first question was: why would I subscribe to a season that has THREE Puccini operas in it? (Butterfly, Tosca, Rondine, I think)

The response: but people love Puccini! Me: Yes, I do too, but are you seriously telling me that there's going to be 5 consecutive seasons *without* any of his operas, thus the urgency? Them: Um, no.

The continuing conservatism of US audiences and companies is really sad. There's so many wonderful operas crying out for a production --and not just from my hobbyhorse 20th century German rep, but all eras-- and instead it's mediocre casts in stuff that never goes more than a few seasons without being done.

It's hard to imagine that this is the same company that has done stuff like Lear, Henze's Das verratene Meer, von Einem's Der Besuch der alten Dame, Prokofiev's fabulous The Fiery Angel, the strong Janáček presence and so on.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I know, I know. Mansouri gave us lots of Russian opera (along with too much Donizetti), Rosenberg...well, you know. It is sad.

Because I got a letter from SFO a couple of weeks ago "inviting" me to "upgrade" to a full subscription, I'm writing a letter back saying why I won't.

pjwv said...

Maybe you should post the letter here so it's out in the world and then send them a link? I just wonder how much impact a single letter is going to have (as opposed to a public statement).

Lisa Hirsch said...

Maybe do both, but I think my readership knows where I stand on this.