Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Analyzing the SFO Season

War Memorial Opera House
Photo by Lisa Hirch

First, an addition to my earlier article: the SFO communications department. tells me that they will  send out a press release in early February with casting updates for the summer season. I'm not sure whether this will be limited to the replacement for David Daniels, but surely that singer will be included. Second, come the spring, there will be announcements about developing artistic matters. This could include the mystery commission ("exciting female composer") and perhaps any others that are in the works.

Over at Parterre Box, this has been termed a boring season, a contribution to SFO competing with Lyric Opera to be the most boring opera company. Well, I don't know about that! For an eight-opera season, it's damn good. Taking a closer look:
  • Verdi opera not heard here in more than 30 years.
  • French opera not heard here in more than 30 years.
  • German opera not heard here in 16 years.
  • English opera not heard here in 15 years.
  • Revival of a Baroque opera production, nearly unheard of, after several years.
  • Revival of a Puccini opera not heard here in 13 years.
  • New opera co-commissioned by the company.
  • Desperately needed new production of a great opera, with an intriguing Konzept.
I mean, the closest thing to overplayed here is Nozze, which I admittedly did not see in its last two bring-ups. I'm not going to complain too too much.

I have some areas of concern. The casting includes a lot of debuting artists, and there will undoubtedly be some misses among the hits. But here's a singer cancellation record that worries me: 

2015 SF Troyens - sang half the performances
2015 SFe Rigoletto - withdraws from half, then all, of the performances (note that rehearsal period overlapped with Troyens performances)

(can't easily find 2016 & 17 info)

2018 BayStaats Vepres - cancels  most performances (March, illness)
2018 Met Romeo - cancels (illness) (April)
2018 Paris Huguenots - cancels ten days before opening (illness)
2019 Paris Troyens - withdraws from 4 of 7 (illness), then remaining 3 (family)

That's what I know about Bryan Hymel's record of cancellations in SF and elsewhere. I do hope he'll stay well and will be able to sing opening night.

I see from reading Steven Winn and Joshua Kosman's reports on the season that Matthew Shilvock gave us similar comments during our respective interviews. (That's one of the functions of a communications department: they help you figure out possible and likely question and the answers.) I wrote about my questions in order of priority, which is why I covered the music director situation first; that seems to me to be a very big ongoing issue. SFS hired Esa-Pekka Salonen mighty fast, especially for a conductor who nobody thought was available. I understand the opera's caution; Nicola Luisotti was basically hired on the strength of La forza del destino, and, well, everybody had high hopes, but I certainly found him a disappointment over the long haul. 

Given the conductors who are returning next season whom I'd consider to be in the running, it might be that SFO 1) wants to see them more than once 2) wants to see them in more than one operatic repertory. So we have Gaffigan (Carmen, Ernani), Renes (Nixon, Billy Budd), Franklin (Turandot, Hansel, Adler program), and Nanasi (Elektra, Nozze). Moulds, conducting two Handel operas, is a specialist. I'm not sure whether Christie is in the running, although maybe everyone is.

Also, regarding my interview, let me make explicit what is stated less than baldly in the interview:
  • There isn't enough money for a longer season at current quality levels.
  • There isn't enough money to have Opera Lab programming because main stage quality can't be compromised.
The budget for next year is not yet approved, but it will be around what it has been for the last few years. The company loves its donors, and is working to find more, but clearly any changes to the budget, length of season, etc. will be in the long run, if at all. This is especially sad with respect to Opera Lab, which was launched with high hopes for alternative performances, Baroque performance, and, well, innovation.

Lastly, I'm glad that there are a whole bunch of Black singers in leading roles this season; both Nozze and Ernani have two Black singers in leading roles. This is part of the diversity we need in opera in America. But the company has other problems: it's an all-white-male composers season and seven of the eight are dead; additionally, it's an all-male conductors season and an all-male directors season. That is going in the wrong direction.


Henry Holland said...

Speaking of boring Lyric Opera of Chicago seasons, the 2019-20 season has been announced:


Barber of Seville, Luisa Miller, Heggie's ghastly Dead Opera Walking, Don Giovanni, an evening of *shudder* Donizetti *shudder*, Butterfly, Queen of Spades and Ring cycles.

Come on LA Opera, you can do worse than that, I know you can! :-)

Lisa Hirsch said...

Hey, Zachary Woolfe commented on Twitter about Lyric's thoughtful casting, while ignoring the fact that the season is pretty bad except for Queen of Spades and the Ring.

Darrick Chen said...

I agree, the casting is better in Chicago. Wish SFO had some of those singers. Still planning my schedule of opera attendance for 19/20.


Bryan said...

It seems it's trendy/campy to have a male witch in Hansel and Gretel these days. The last several performances I've heard about have all been this way.

Lisa Hirsch said...

It's not a recent trend. The tenor Albert Reiss sang the Witch in 30 Met performances between 1910 and 1916. There's one recording of the opera, from 1969, that has a male witch, too.

Henry Holland said...

Right on cue, LA Opera announces their 2019/20 season:


The Aucoin Eurydice looks interesting, will go to the Pelleas et Melisande since the last time I saw it here was in the mid-90's in the Peter Sellars "Beach House" production.

John Marcher said...

Henry Holland, right on cue again with his usual carping about how boring everything is.
I'm at a loss at how anyone views the Lyric's season as boring, especially given the casts.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Oh, I find LOC to have a well cast boring season except for the Ring and Queen of Spades.