Friday, December 11, 2015


Tower of London
May, 2014

Media round-up for SF Opera's double bill of Gordon Getty's Usher House and Robert Orledge's completion of Debussy's La chute de la maison Usher.
  • Joshua Kosman, Chron. He has some intriguing remarks on the Debussy, but summarizes the production as "two misconceived creations side by side on the stage of the War Memorial Opera House in a dreary, dispiriting presentation." See further remarks below.
  • Georgia Rowe, Mercury News. "Unspeakably dull." Of Getty, "Set to a meandering, repetitive score, it's musically bland and dramatically inert."
  • Jeff Dunn, SFCV. Focuses less on the music than I would have expected.
  • Opera Tattler. "The Fail of the House of Usher." "Kitch rules."
  • Ilana Walder-Biesanz, Bachtrack. "Gripping."
  • James Ambroff-Tahan, SF Examiner. There's almost no evaluation of the music in this review.
  • Stephen Smoliar. Surprisingly positive, but I wish there were more about the music.
A few comments about Joshua Kosman's last paragraph, which addresses an issue that I am sure most of us have wondered about: the influence of Gordon Getty's support for the arts in getting his works performed. For example, decades ago, SF Symphony gave the first, concert, performances of Getty's Falstaff opera Plump Jack.

Here is Joshua's extremely judicious last paragraph:
Getty’s history as a benefactor for the Bay Area’s musical scene is long and exemplary; it’s no exaggeration to say that nothing in our musical life would be remotely the same without his attentive and munificent generosity. But not even well-merited gratitude can justify General Director David Gockley’s decision to put the company’s imprimatur on this sorry double bill.
I'll be the first to say that I wouldn't mind a peek at Getty's will, where there might be large bequests to any number of Bay Area musical organizations. Artistically, Joshua is surely right if the work is as bad as he says. (I have not seen it yet, but given the reviews I have read and friends' opinions, I bet I will agree with him.)

But it's also worth comparing the financial cost of putting on the double bill with the cost of, let's say, Mary Magdalene. That work was commissioned by SFO, meaning that the company bore the full cost of development: the commissioning fee to Mark Adamo, which must have been in the hundreds of thousands; the cost of the production and staging (sets, director fee, etc.); the fees paid to a large cast that included four leads, and the chorus, etc.

The Usher House production came from the Welsh National Opera, so I assume a rental fee and shipping costs were involved (plus any costs that might be associated with adapting the sets to the SFO stage, if the two houses are very different);

MY BAD. It's a co-production of SFO and (the other) WNO.

The assistant directors directed the revival staging; the cast is smaller and less expensive than the Mary Magdalene cost, and the production runs for only four performances.

I realize that taking a flyer on a commission and staging a work that is a known quantity involve very, very different degrees of risk to a company. But staging the Usher House double bill might have been a good financial decision by SFO in all kinds of ways, regardless of the reputational risks.


JSC said...

The individual performances were good, but yeah..overall it was a truly awful, totally dull and BORING mess. It made ~2 hrs and 15 mins feel like 4. At the end of the Getty piece there were some boos from the rear orch. I stuck it out 'til the end, but there were folks leaving left and right during the performance -not even waiting for intermission. After intermission, entire rows were empty and then more left during the Debussy. After that big letdown, I am so glad to have the Adler Gala tomorrow to end the Fall season on a high note. :-)

Lisa Hirsch said...

Oh, dear. I am on the bus heading to SF now to see tonight's performance. Too bad, too bad...especially after the glorious Meistersinger.

Henry Holland said...

From Joshua Kosman's review:

But not even well-merited gratitude can justify General Director David Gockley’s decision to put the company’s imprimatur on this sorry double bill

But he's been trotting out crap since his Houston Grand Opera days, it's not a surprise. If it weren't for Nixon in China and a few others I can't be bothered to look up right now, it's a depressing streak of mediocrity.

John Marcher said...

Well, at least you'll get to experience it firsthand, which I won't, and I have mixed feelings about missing it because in general I like to support new operas at SFO regardless of their origins.

However, you missed a pretty great show SoundBox.

Lisa Hirsch said...

We can only half-blame Gockley for this: it is an SFO co-production, not a commission. IOW, SFO is way less financially involved.

Also, from what I hear it is likely that Getty made a big enough donation to cover the costs. Still, as Joshua said, in other ways it's not good for the company.

Anonymous said...

Amusing coincidence - what should I just happen to run across when opening one of Andrew Porter's collections but a review of an earlier production of the Debussy. Not a completion, just the surviving original.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Which of Porter's collections?

Anonymous said...

I think it was the 1977-1980.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Music of Three More Seasons is the collection with those years. I have Music of Three Seasons, have to check for "more."