|Get used to this face. You're going to see a lot of it.|
I remain very optimistic about the operas coming up this summer, and suspect they could even hit an artistic trifecta. It looked like Gockley had finally hit his stride here in San Francisco, and that he did it in this economic climate made it all the more impressive. So I'm puzzled and somewhat dismayed by today's announcement of the company's 2013-14 season, even though it's nice to say that for the second year in a row, fully half of it will be comprised of things I've never seen before.
However, what's on tap for next year is not as interesting as the current season- the ability to attract (and pay) the star-power that has been a constant during Gockley's tenure seems greatly diminished- in fact it's at its lowest wattage in several seasons. When Patricia Racette, Ramon Vargas, Nathan Gunn, Bryn Terfel and Dolora Zajick are the seasons biggest names there's not a lot to get people excited about- these are all fine singers without a doubt, and there are many more on the schedule including the excellent Ainhoa Arteta, Heidi Stober and Idlar Abdrazakov, but they're all known quantities. The casts are solid, but there are also a number of debuts by unfamiliar names we can only hope turn out to be pleasant surprises
Where are the company debuts by Nino Machaidze, Michelle De Young, Marina Poplavskaya, Matthias Goerne, Gianluca Terranova or Jonas Kaufmann? Or the return of Stemme, Radvanovsky, Damrau or Keenlyside? Why no Britten in his centennial year? And why three productions featuring Racette? That's just ridiculous.
Of course these schedules are planned years in advance, but I have to imagine that there's a certain amount of "contingency" scenarios involved, more so now than ever in an era where every house still seems to be having trouble selling tickets. Lisa was at today's press conference and writes that Gockley acknowledged
"the need to keep the company on a decent financial footing has been paramount during the ongoing recession. His priority has been to keep quality high while sacrificing repertory. He said that he is leaving repertory holes, and he knows it, that he hopes will be filled by his white knight successor."Wait a second- wasn't Gockley supposed to be the white knight whose assignment was to clean up the mess left by his predecessor?
Like this year's Rig and Tosca, there are double casts and long runs of two war horses, The Barber of Seville and La Traviata. During the intermission of Moby Dick I overheard someone who claimed to be a super say the company lost a million dollars on Rigoletto. I have no idea if that's true, but 40% discounts on seats for Rig and Tosca were easily had throughout their runs, despite the well-known leads. So my question is if that didn't work out so well this year, why is it being repeated next year with significantly lesser-known casts?
Okay, enough carping. I'm happy the company is still alive and there is going to be some good stuff on the stage. And once again, there isn't anything I wouldn't see, though there are only
Mefistofele: Arrigo Boito's only extant complete opera, with a great cast featuring Idlar Abdrazakov, Ramon Vargas and Racette, conducted by Luisotti. A peripheral element of the company's celebration of Verdi's bicentennial, this opera by his best librettist isn't a rarity, but isn't something one sees scheduled too often. This production was last seen in 1994. Racette sang Margherita in that one, too.
Dolores Claiborne: A world premiere is always cause for excitement and trepidation. This one, commissioned by SFO from composer Tobias Picker (An American Tragedy, Emmeline) and librettist/poet J.D. McClatchy (Grendel, Emmeline), is based on the Stephen King King novel of the same name and stars Dolora Zajick in the title role with Elizabeth Futral, Susannah Biller and Wayne Tigges as the "abusive husband." I haven't read the book nor seen the film based on it, so I have no idea what it's about, but I like the idea of Zajick with an abusive husband- sounds like lots of drama.
Show Boat: Not that I expect him to send me tickets or anything like that, since they won't even add me to their press list (why so petty, Jon?), but Gockley is finally following the advice I gave him a couple of years ago and has decided to stage American musicals- he's even taken one of my casting suggestions! So you can blame me or thank me, depending on your stance, on this blatant attempt to bring in the crowds that will prove to be a huge success. Nathan Gunn, Racette and Heidi Stober star in the Kern and Hammerstein classic, directed by Francesa Zambello. It's going to be great, and supposedly done without microphones. Next time I want The Music Man, bitches!
Falstaff: The one supposedly great Verdi opera I've never warmed to, I'm hoping the first-rate cast led by Bryn Terfel in the title role, along with Ainhoa Arteta and Heidi Stober, and led by Luisotti will do the trick in this production from Chicago.
The Flying Dutchman: After such a marvelous Lohengrin this season, it seems like a missed opportunity to pass on celebrating the Wagner bicentennial with Parsifal, but any Wagner is better than no Wagner. I was one of fourteen people who loved the last production from Chicago by Nikolaus Lehnhoff seen here in 2004, so that's been passed over in favor of new co-production with Belgium's Opéra Royal de Wallonie. Greer Grimsley, who impressed everyone as Jokanaan in Salome returns in the title role, Petra Maria Schnitzer, whose last appearance here was in the under-appreciated Tannhauser makes her debut as Senta. Ian Storey (last seen as Siegfried in Gotterdammerung) and Kristinn Sigmundsson are also on hand. Patrick Summers conducts. Okay- make this another one I really want to see- Dutchman, done right, is a fantastic opera.
Madama Butterfly: Racette returns as Cio-Cio-San, a role in which by all accounts she was magnificent when she last performed it here in 2006 and 2007. Regrettably I missed those, since one can only take so many Butterflies, and saw it last time around instead, which was a complete disaster. But this is a production new to SF, so if you've never seen it, or haven't in a long time, now's the time to take in this Puccini masterpiece, which has become so frequently scheduled by the company it seems silly to complain about it at this point even though it shows up almost every other fricking year. Brian Jagde is Pinkerton- another plus.
The Barber of Seville: Gioachino Rossini, certainly one of the greatest opera composers of all time, wrote 39 operas, but only 5 have been seen in San Francisco in the past twenty years and of those 9 productions, 4 have been The Barber. Can't we have something else by Rossini once in awhile? The last production, with its revolving house set and red scooter was a delight, but has been retired for some reason. One can only hope the young and talented casts assembled for this new production have as much to work with. Barber is a wonderful opera, and perfect for first-timers. If done with verve, it can be the most fun you'll ever have at the opera. Here's hoping it's done for fun and not just for the cash.
La Traviata: This production is going to be a hard sell for anyone who saw it the last time it was here with Ruth Ann Swenson, Rolando Villazon and Dimitri Hvorostovsky in the leads (this isn't the flapper production from LA which starred Netrebko). To this day that performance remains one my all-time favorite operatic experiences. It was traditional staging done in the most magnificent way possible- deadly earnest and flawlessly delivered from everyone involved. It was spellbinding. The cast assembled this time around had better be good, because there is nowhere to hide in this production. The Perez/Costello/Kelsey cast features good singers who could one day be great (and perhaps one is already), but in my opinion they could be a bit on the young side to pull this off as convincingly as it needs to be done to really succeed. In the other cast of Yoncheva/Pirgu/Stoyanov, Pirgu is the only one I've heard and I wasn't overly impressed. I wish them luck, but I'd wait to hear something about it first before plunking down $300+ for a full-price ticket in the Orchestra or Grand Tier sections.