Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Repertory Fatigue

The SF Opera season announcement came out earlier this week. Before I tell you what's in it, let's take a look at some company history, including the upcoming season.
  • Don Giovanni: 1995; 1999-2000; 2006-07; 2011-12; 2016-17 (five bring-ups since 1995)
  • Rigoletto: 1997-98 (two runs with different casts), 2001-02, 2006-07, 2012-13, 2016-17 (five bring-ups since 1997)
  • La Boheme: 1996-97 (Broadway Boheme, 4 rotating casts, many performances), 1999-2000 (two runs with different casts),  2003-04 (two runs with different casts), 2008-09, 2014-15 (two different casts), 2016-17 (6 bring-ups since 1996)
  • Madama Butterfly: 1995-96, 1997-98, 1998-99, 2001-2002, 2002-03, 2005-06, 2007-08, 2010-11, 2013-14, 2016-17 (10 bring-ups since 1995, i.e. you can depend on seeing this in alternate years) 
That's just since I re-upped in 1995 after not having subscribed since the mid/late 1980s.

You know why I'm doing this, right? Because these works are again on the schedule, all in the same year. It is a depressing season, and the infinite rerun of Rigoletto, Boheme, Don Giovanni, and Butterfly is why. (It could be worse: La Traviata could have been on the schedule!)

This kind of scheduling suggests a major failure on the part of SF Opera, an admission that they can't figure out how to sell a modestly more interesting season to their patrons. David Gockley said as much to Joshua Kosman:
“This is a transition year, and I didn’t want to leave my successor with something big and ugly,” Gockley said in a phone interview. “I wanted to be sure to hand Matthew something that was attainable.” 
This is a sad state of affairs and doesn't serve the audience well. Or at least it doesn't serve audience members who want something beyond the operatic top 10 (or 25), who want the repertory to expand rather than contract, who think that a little dissonance doesn't chase audiences away, who think that there are plenty of operas with tunes that are never heard but are worth reviving, whether that's early Verdi, the unknown Donizetti, operas by Respighi, Martinu, and others.

Here are the main-stage operas, with some casting information.
  • Andrea Chenier, with up-and-coming tenor Yonghoon Lee, soprano Anna Pirozzi, George Gagnidze, J'nai Bridges. Nicola Luisotti conducts.
  • Dream of the Red Chamber, cond. George Manahan and an all-Asian cast that will be singing in English. Most singers make their debuts, but you will remember Nian Wang from Les Troyens.
  • Don Pasquale, with the brilliant Lawrence Brownlee, finally making his SFO debut; Heidi Stober, Maurizio Muraro, Lucas Meecham/Giuseppe Finzi, production by Laurent Pelly so it will be Cute.
  • Vec Makropoulos: with Nadja Michael as EM; I thought her poor in Salome. Stephen Powell as Prus, Scott Quinn is Albert Gregor. Mikhail Tatarnikov conducts.
  • Aida, with Leah Crocetto, Brian Jagde, and Ekaterina Semenchuk. I am not convinced that this will work well for Crocetto, who has a lovely voice that doesn't seem quite right for this spinto role, and who isn't a big projector of emotions. I've never been wholly won over by Jagde. Prediction: Semenchuk, who showed both voice and temperament in her tiny appearance in Luisa Miller, runs away with the show. George Gagnidze is Amonasro; he is this season's Christian Van Horn/Brian Mulligan/Andrea Silvestrelli. Luisotti conducts.
  • Madama Butterfly: If only I hadn't retired this opera, I might look forward to seeing Lianna Haroutounian in the title role. Zanda Svede as Suzuki, Maxim Aksenov as Pinkerton, Anthony Clark Evans as Sharpless. yves Abel conducts, Jordi Bernacer takes the last performance.
  • Rigoletto: Quinn Kelsey should be very good, almost certainly superior to Zeljiko Lucic, who took the title role last time; Pene Pati as the Duke, Nino Machaidze as Gilda. Andrea Silvestrelli is back as Sparafucile, Zanda Svede is Maddalena. It'll be the Yeargan again, reimiagined in some way by director Rob Kearley.
  • La Boheme. Erika Grimaldi/Julie Adams (Mimi), Ellie Dehn (Musetta), Arturo Chacon-Cruz (Rodolfo), Audun Iversen (Marcello; cond. Carlo Montanaro.
  • Don Giovanni: I have not see DG since the great production of 2007, and I might skip it again. Idelbrando D'Arcangelo as Giovanni, Erin Wall (Anna), Ana Maria Martinez (Elviro), Marco Vinco as Leporello, Sarah Shafer as Zerlina. Marc Minkowski conducts (possibly the most interesting aspect of the opera).
God help us all: nine operas, of which seven are Italian, one is Czech, and one is in English (despite its source material, composer, and all-Asian cast!). Nothing German, nothing Russian, nothing French, and except for the premiere, none written after 1925. That's almost as timid a season as I can imagine. It's as though the giant productions of 2015 sucked all the money sense air out of the room, leaving a Greatest Hits for Beginners season. Two Verdi, two Puccini, one each of Mozart, Donizetti, Sheng, Janacek, and Giordano.

Things are better across the street in the tiny Taube Atrium Theater, which seats 299. We'll get Anna Caterina Antonacci in Poulenc's poignant La voix humaine and Ted Hearn's The Source. That does not make up for the above....a season I'll have to be paid to attend, except for the three operas I've never seen before, two of which are not among opera's greatest works and one of which is completely new....and maybe Makropoulos because I love the opera.


Chanterelle said...

Time to consult Yapta and Operabase (admittedly a bit early for European announcements). Next year, consider the Prototype Festival. Dog Days was the oldie on this year's program. And you could probably find something worth seeing at the Met, the NYPhil, NYCO Renaissance (if it survives), Juilliard...

Lisa Hirsch said...

Oh, my travel plans are accumulating, definitely. Possibilities include rumored LOC Troyens, new Met Tristan, and whatever I can find elsewhere, plus a great season (again) at West Edge Opera (Paisiello's Barber of Seville, Leoncavallo's Boheme, Powder Her Face, Agrippina, and Cunning Little Vixen.

Anonymous said...

Admittedly Rigoletto, Boheme, Don Giovanni, and Butterfly are four of the operas. But that leaves five that are not. While Aida and Don Pasquale are also among the common standard repertoire, Andrea Chenier, depending on your definitions, is possibly not, The Makropoulos Case is surely not, and Dream of the Red Chamber is emphatically not.

So are you expecting that no standard repertoire be played to earn your approbation? If you're not that extreme, what's your threshold? Seems to me, since there's a variability factor here, it's not a choice between a good or bad season, but a sliding scale between more and less interesting, and as long as there's at least something of interest, it could still be criticized but doesn't seem to me to deserve such a thoroughly rounding denunciation.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Andrea Chenier used to be standard rep but has fallen out of it. SFO hasn't done Chenier since 1992 (before that, 1975, 1965) and hasn't done Don Pasquale since 1984 (although there was a Merola run recently, I think last year).

I'm not saying there shouldn't be any standard rep. I'm saying that this degree of repetition of the same operas over and over is a very big problem.

SFO has a short season compared to companies such as the Met or Deutsche Oper Berlin or even the ROH. A season with so many greatest-hits operas is the symphonic equivalent of a season that is 1/4 Beethoven, 1/4 Brahms, 1/4 Tchaikowsky, 1/4 that other stuff. (I exaggerate somewhat.) It is really a problem when a work is brought back more or less every season when those seasons range from 8 to 10 operas.

The Met has been putting on 22 to 25 works annually for the last 20 years or so. They can do Boheme almost every year as the equivalent of a ballet company's Nutcracker. It's much more problematic for SFO to do Butterfly more or less in alternate years. (And even the Met has an outsized quantity of Verdi, Puccini, and Donizetti this year; here's what another blogger had to say about that.

We just need more variety.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I'm not even going to try to set a threshold, by the way. But I do know that SFO will be getting less of my money than it has in past years. I, personally, prefer to spend my time and money on unfamiliar works rather than seeing Butterfly/Tosca/Boheme/Rigoletto/Traviata/Magic Flute/Don Giovanni/Marriage of Figaro etc. again. And again. And again.

CruzSF said...

I'm with you, Lisa. I'm not against ANY standard rep, but even I'm worn from all the Butterfly returns, and I've only been seeing/listening to opera since 2002. Ditto on La Boheme. There must be other top 20 operas that could be staged to add a pinch of variety.

According to (to which I refer because Bachtrack stats include only the top 10), other top 20 works we could stand to revive are Eugene Onegin, Hansel und Gretel, Nabucco, and Pagliacci.

I love The Makropulos Case (although I'm not excited about the lead singer), but other than Dream of the Red Chamber and Andrea Chenier, which I've never seen, the rest of the season leaves me tired.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, it's pretty dismaying. The LA Opera suffers from the same thing at least as much, of course. Who are these people who want to see Madama Butterfly over and over again? There can't be many of them among the subscribers, whom the opera management claims to value.

This is the first year in a long time when SF Opera is not offering anything I particularly want to see (not even Makropoulos, since my memory is still strong of the same production with Mattila -- I think I'll pass on this and enjoy my memories).

I've only seen Andrea Chenier once, in a rather wan New York City Opera production. I think this is essentially a star vehicle, and if you don't have Franco Corelli and Renata Tebaldi it's really not going to fly. Then again, that whole genre (La Gioconda, Adriana Lecouvreur, Fedora, La Wally, Francesca da Rimini, etc) bores me to tears, so probably I'm not the best one to judge.

Lisa Hirsch said...

One of my deep personal secrets is that I have more recordings of La Gioconda than I have of all Rossini operas together (and all the Rossini operas I own are called "William Tell."). I've never seen it live, but it is an awful lot of fun on record, so I hope that some day I do see it.

I agree with you about Chenier; it needs a couple of big, idiomatic voices and singers will to go at it hammer and tongs. I doubt this will be that....but I'm willing to see it once.

Henry Holland said...

Welcome to the life of a former regular patron of Los Angeles Opera. I get it, the company almost imploded due to the cost and lower-than-expected ticket sales of the Freyer Ring and the assorted issues around that. However, they're also a company that used to have 8 or 9 main stage productions and in one season had 3 Puccini operas. Even stuff I was interested in like Braunfel's Die Vogel and of course Schreker's Die Gezeichneten suffered from budget cuts (the original director of the Schreker left because of those cuts), reduced rehearsal time and scrappy playing due to the really really really dumb decision to do them at the same time as The Ring. For a company that use to spread those 8-9 operas over an 8 month period, that's lunacy.

Glockley was brought in to restore order after the Pamela Rosenberg fiasco and he's done that. However, for all the hype that his premieres in Houston got, most of them disappeared without a trace and he seems to have done that in San Francisco too. I think it's just sad that a company that has a history of American premieres, doing stuff like Lear and Henze's Das verratene Meer along with more tonal stuff like The Fiery Angel, Betrothal in a Monastery and so on is so risk-adverse that it has seasons like this one.

Sacto OperaFan said...

Here's a season that you can get excited about:

Chicago Lyric's 16/17 season. Comments?

Lisa Hirsch said...

Comments tomorrow some time with the exception that I plan to go for Troyens and Don Quichotte. Christine Goerke as Cassandre? Hell yes!

Henry Holland said...

Yes, the Lyric Opera season is a little better than SFO's due to the two French operas but it's still warhorse-centric plus they have a musical, something I am totally against opera companies using a precious production slot for.

Plus, the Lyric website should get one of Lisa's posts about "Websites that need to be re-done". Fine, they announce the productions but give no dates of all the performances, after multiple searches no press release announcing them either and the calendar only goes to July.

LA Opera will probably announce their season next week, Buddah knows what horrors that will bring.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I have the PDF of the full season announcement - want to see it?

Darrick, Henry speaks for me on this. I'd see the two French operas plus Onegin (a work I'm not sold on after two go-rounds in SF), probably nothin' else.

COC has also announced and it's a pretty good season with good singers.

Henry Holland said...

Lisa, I am curious to where that PDF is hiding, I searched multiple times all over the LOC website. Thanks.

As for COC, another company with The Magic Flute! Plus, the only opera written after 1900* is actually from 1967. *sigh*

* Yes, Tosca had its premiere on 1/14/1900, but I still consider it a 19th century opera.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Hiding in Dropbox in a link I got from the press office, is where the PDF was.

Sibyl said...

Full body yawn. Can't even call this a swing and a miss.

CK Dexter Haven said...

I frequently disagree with Mr. Holland, but I'm 100% with him on the state of LA Opera's seasons The current 2015/16 one has been particularly lackluster, suffering from the same "Boheme/Butterfly" existence as SF will endure next season among other ailments.

Speaking of next season, LA Opera's announcement was made late last night. It's, well, how can we put a positive spin on this . . . less underwhelming than the 15/16 offerings.

Lisa Hirsch said...

LAO's upcoming season is still better than SFO's, dammit.

Sacto OperaFan said...

I've enjoyed reading comments from everyone. To keep my series I have to find 5 operas to attend. There is only one I'm interested in seeing - Pasquale. I've never seen it before and Brownlee is FINALLY coming to sing. YAY.

I am tepid about Chenier. Lee has been getting good notices, but would have preferred to see him make his debut here in Verdi. I don't care for Chenier and was only excited when I thought Kaufmann or Alagna was going to sing the lead - two tenors who should have made debuts years ago. I don't understand why Alagna has been absent all these years. He was supposed to have made his US debut at SFO in 92 or so, but cancelled and never came back.

I love Makropoulous, but Nadja Michaels? I'm skipping this run.

Aida? I'll probably go as I like Crocetto and see what she can do. But agree with Lisa that this Verdi role might not be a fit. I thought we'd see Crocetto as Desdemona or maybe the Boccanegra Amelia as her next Verdi assignment.

Butterfly - I like Haroutounian, so maybe. The production looks stupid.

I join everyone in questioning SFO's choice of repertoire. However, for me, it's the lack of A-List singers that bothers me more. Mr. Gockley has in the past cast the productions very well - even the warhorses featured stars. This season's line up, with the exception of Brownlee and Lee making debuts, is seriously lacking star power.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Gockley sent mail to subscribers a few years ago promising Alagna; I have no idea what happened. I've never Chenier and it seems weirdly dull on record even with Del Monaco and Tebaldi, but I'll go anyway. I heard a clip of the soprano on FB today and she is the real thing, too.

Yeah, Nadja Michael but I'll go anyway.

I hated Kuneko's Magic Flute and wish Haroutounian were singing, say, Elisabetta di Valois in June. :) I think she counts as a star, or she'll be one in a couple of years.