Opera Warhorses

An appreciation and analysis of the 'Standard Repertory' of opera

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Review: Meade, Barton, Thomas, Robinson Sing Beautifully in “Norma” – Los Angeles Opera, November 21, 2015

November 23rd, 2015

Los Angeles Opera assembled a cast of rising American stars for Vincenzo Bellini’s opera “Norma” that met and exceeded the opera’s bel canto imperative.

Washington state soprano Angela Meade was cast as Norma, joined by Georgia mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton as Adalgisa, Florida tenor Russell Thomas as Pollione and Georgia basso Morris Robinson as Oroveso, each artist chosen for an opera expressly created to exemplify beautiful singing,

[Below: Norma (Angela Meade, front right) summons the Druids for a fateful admission; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]


Angela Meade’s Norma

Bellini’s “Norma” is one of two operas (the other being Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor”) that exemplify the legendary bel canto era of Italian opera. Angela Meade has emerged as one of the 21st century’s bel canto divas.

Meade’s Norma successfully navigates one of the most difficult roles in the soprano repertory. Her extraordinary breath control is evident in the ethereal aria Casta Diva with its long Bellinian melodies.

Angela summons her technically brilliant coloratura, and her dramatic vocal intensity to display a range of emotions.  These emotions range from maternal compassion to ferocious anger to desperate internal conflict in her encounters with the three principals and with the community to whom she is supposed to be a spiritual leader.

“Norma” focuses less on action than on the several emotional interchanges between its protagonist, the Druid priestess Norma; her estranged husband Pollione, whom she had secretly married; her friend Adalgisa who unknowingly is the rival for Norma’s husband; and her Druid chieftain father, Oroveso, to whom she reveals that her life as a virginal priestess is a lie.

[Below: Angela Meade as Norma; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.],


I have been fortunate to report on Angela Meade’s role debuts both in the title role of Norma in Washington D. C. [see my review at Legend Making at the Kennedy Center: Angela Meade’s First Norma – Washington National Opera, March 9, 2013] and as Matilda in Turin, Italy [Osborn, Meade and Jenis in Graham Vick’s Mounting of “Guglielmo Tell” – Teatro Regio Torino, May 7, 2014.]

While these were landmark performances. nowhere has Meade excelled above what Los Angeles audiences experienced than in Meade’s two duets with mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, particularly the close harmony fireworks of Si, fino allore, allore, estreme.

[Below: Norma (Angela Meade, left) shares remembrances of a man’s attentions with Adalgisa (Jamie Barton, right); edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]


Jamie Barton’s Adalgisa

Jamie Barton, like Angela Meade, has been a recipient of the prestigious annual Richard Tucker award. Her extraordinary voice has a brilliant top and strength in the lower register. It is her voice’s lower range that often brings to mind a similar feature of the great mezzo voice of Marilyn Horne, one of the previous generation’s greatest Adalgisas.

It would be difficult to imagine a wholly satisfactory performance of “Norma” without an accomplished Adalgisa. Maestro James Conlon, the conductor, refers to as the most important female role in early 19th century Italian opera not to have her own major aria, but it is how her role is constructed to interact with Norma and Pollione that makes the absence of an individual aria beside the point.

It is Adalgisa’s duets with Norma and the act-ending trio Oh non tremare, o perfido between the two women and the Pollione, the man both love, that makes Adalgisa such a significant role.

I have personally experienced such extraordinary Norma-Adalgisa pairs as Beverly Sills with Tatiana Troyanos (San Diego Opera) and Joan Sutherland with Marilyn Horne (San Francisco Opera) and believe that the Meade-Barton pairing appropriately belongs with this stellar list.

Russell Thomas’ Pollione

This was the fourth opportunity for me to review performances in which Barton is teamed with the young spinto tenor Russell Thomas [See A Second Look: “Norma” at the San Francisco Opera – September 14, 2014 and Review: Hurt, Bauer, Angeletti, Barton, Thomas in “Nabucco” – Seattle Opera, August 9, 2015

[Below: Pollione (Russell Thomas, left) insists that Adalgisa (Jamie Barton, right) return with him to Rome; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]


Thomas possesses a true spinto voice and uses it effectively as Pollione. His voice possesses the lyricism that enriches the first scene cavatina Meco all’altar di Venere and Pollione’s heartfelt reconciliation with Norma as both go to their deaths at opera’s end. Elsewhere, he uses his large voice effectively in the furious exchanges with Norma.

Thomas’ artistry continues to attract attention from opera managements worldwide. He is in the early stages of a major career.

[Below: Russell Thomas as Pollione; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]


Morris Robinson’s Oroveso

The sonorous bass voice of former football star Morris Robinson is beautifully matched with the melodious passages Bellini composed for the Druid leader Oroveso. Robinson’s Oroveso was a formidable, dramatically convincing presence.

Robinson’s career has been associated with Francesca Zambello’s immensely popular production of Joseph Kern’s and Roger Hammerstein’s classic musical Show Boat in which Robinson, as Joe, sings Ol’ Man River [See DVD Review: Francesca Zambello, the American Musical and the San Francisco Opera, Part I: “Show Boat”.]

[Below: Morris Robinson as Oroveso; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]


In a recent interview [Rising Stars – An Interview with Morris Robinson] described the importance of Maestro James Conlon, the evening’s conductor to his career and Conlon’s encouragement of Robinson to assay a variety of operatic styles.

I have previously reported on Conlon teaming with Robinson for Mozart [Shining L. A. Opera “Magic Flute” on Sunny Matinee Day – January 11, 2009] and Wagner [Achim Freyer’s Fascinating “Rheingold” Begins L. A. “Ring” – March 11, 2009.]

James Conlon’s Conducting and Other Cast Members

Maestro James Conlon, music director of the Los Angeles Opera, has assumed the status of a major Los Angeles institution by presenting pre-opera talks for virtually all performances he conducts. [For background on how this practice evolved, see An Interview with Conductor James Conlon, Part 1 and An Interview with Conductor James Conlon, Part 2.]

Conlon is an impassioned advocate for Bellini and the music of “Norma”, whose influence on opera composers Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi (each of whom was age 20 when the opera was first performed), he demonstrated at his lecture. He also shared with his audience his belief that the cast of Meade, Barton, Thomas and Robinson was as great as cast as any company would be able to assemble.

[Below: Maestro James Conlon; edited image of a J. C. Steinberg photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]


He led the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra in a spirited sinfonia that is the opera’s prelude, followed by a rousing performance that was unambiguously a labor of Conlon’s love.

Two other members of the cast, both Domingo-Coburn-Stein Young Artists, sang with distinction.

Texas Tenor Rafael Moras was the centurion Flavio (even though Pollione’s subordinate, obviously a friend and operative who helped enable Pollione’s complex double life). Mezzo-soprano Lacey Jo Benter was Clotilde, who had similar responsibilities regarding Norma (as well as being the caretaker for Norma’s and Pollione’s children).

Anne Bogart’s Production

I had written at some length about Anne Bogart’s production at the Kennedy Center (see above reference), including Neil Patel’s abstract sets and James Schuette’s imposing costumes.

[Below: Norma (Angela Meade, right) and Pollione (Russell Thomas, left) reconcile before their deaths by fire; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]


In general, I find the production to be effective, it’s particular strength being its movement of principals and choristers, employing Bellini’s music advantageously.  (For example, the Druids use the last section of the sinfonia to begin to move into place to hear Oroveso declaim Ite cul colle, e Druidi.)

Six priestess/dancers that have a variety of ceremonial functions and help move us from scene to the next. We are always conscious, whether Romans or Druids are onstage, that this is the borderland between two cultures, usually with a Roman in battle gear observing from the high windows of a structure at stage left.

Bogart’s direction displays a nervous energy in every encounter between Druids and Romans. She uses designer Patel’s extensively raked stage to suggest a tentativeness, reflected in choreographed movements when the outnumbered Romans venture into areas that the Druids hold.

The image of a rising moon is the dominant presence in the opera’s second act, particularly as it reddens in the final scene when Norma and Pollione go to meet their deaths by fire.


I recommend this performance and cast enthusiastically both for the veteran opera-goer and lover of great singing.

Tags: 2005-2015: William's Reviews

Review: McVicar’s Magical, Masterful “Meistersinger” – San Francisco Opera, November 18, 2015

November 20th, 2015

For David Gockley’s final season as General Director of the San Francisco Opera, Sir David McVicar’s 2011 Glyndebourne Festival production of Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger” was mounted. Even for an opera company with a strong tradition of great Wagner performances, the McVicar “Meistersinger” was an extraordinary success.

[Below: the unit set for David McVicar’s production of Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger”, here staged for the second act; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


During Gockley’s tenure, British or American directors created productions shown at San Francisco Opera of nine of Wagner’s ten major operas (all but “Parsifal”).

As a celebration of the ten season Gockley era, the McVicar “Meistersinger” – the last of the Gockley “Wagners” – had special meaning.

Gockley regarded the 2007 Graham Vick new production of  Wagner’s “Tannhauser” with its singing contest of minnesingers and the 2015 McVicar “Meistersinger” with its singing contest of mastersingers, as monuments to San Francisco Opera’s and Gockley’s commitments to the celebration of vocal performance.

Brandon Jovanovich’s Walther von Stolzing

“Meistersinger” continued the identification of Gockley-era San Francisco Opera with the career of tenor Brandon Jovanovich, whose exploration of the “youthful” Wagnerian tenor roles has taken place at the War Memorial Opera House.

I have reported on the back-to-back evenings in which Jovanovich’s role debuts as Froh [“Rheingold” Evolves in First Full Zambello “Ring” – San Francisco Opera, June 14, 2011] and Siegmund [Power Singing, Powerful Imagery in Zambello’s “Walkuere” – San Francisco Opera, June 15, 2011] occurred, as well as his later role debut as Lohengrin [Jovanovich is a Joy in Luisotti’s Luminous “Lohengrin” – San Francisco Opera, October 20, 2012], before this evening’s role debut as Stolzing.

[Below: Brandon Jovanovich as Walther von Stolzing; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


Jovanovich’s performance suggested that Walther will be a felicitous role for him, although an early hint of uncharacteristic vocal tentativeness was confirmed when an announcement was made prior to the third act that Jovanovich was battling a mild cold. Even so, Jovanovich appeared fully at ease and performed strongly in the very long and demanding third act.

James Rutherford’s Hans Sachs

During both the 2011 Glyndebourne and 2015 San Francisco runs of the McVicar “Meistersinger”, British baritone James Rutherford was cast as Hans Sachs. Rutherford’s previous appearance in San Francisco had been as Wolfram of the Wartburg Minnesingers in a Graham Vick production [see Charismatic S. F. “Tannhauser” – October 12, 2007.]

Rutherford proved to be an engaging, very human Sachs, easily establishing rapport with the San Francisco audience.

[Below: James Rutherford as Hans Sachs; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera. ]


Rachel Willis-Sørensen’s Eva

I had previously admired an appearance by Willis-Sørensen in a Mozart Opera [Review: Classy Cast in Classic “Cosi fan Tutte” – Houston Grand Opera, October 31, 2014.] One of the many alumni of the Houston Grand Opera Studio now assuming principal roles in the world’s opera houses, her gleaming soprano voice resonated in the War Memorial Opera House.

Her stage presence in her San Francisco Opera debut and her attractive soprano sound suggested a sucessful career in Wagner as well as Mozart.

[Below: Rachel Willis-Sørensen as Eva; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


Alek Shrader’s David

It is possible to underestimate just how large and important the role of the apprentice David is in “Meistersinger”. In this production, David is sung by tenor Alek Shrader, who is a master of the light lyric roles of Italian opera. Shrader brings to all of his performances, as in this “Meistersinger”, audience-pleasing comic flair and athleticism.

[Below: Alek Shrader as David; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


Sasha Cooke’s Magdalena

Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke appears as David’s sweetheart, Magdalena. Another brilliant casting choice, she is an effective actress.

(Having created the title role in Mark Adamo’s opera [See Warm Reception for Adamo’s “Mary Magdalene” – San Francisco Opera, June 19, 2013] it cries out for Cooke to be cast as yet a third Magdalene – Verdi’s Maddalena – the next time “Rigoletto” appears in the San Francisco Opera repertory.)

[Below: Sasha Cooke as Magdalena; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


The Third Act Quintet

There is an important reason for assigning the role of Magdalena to a first rate artist like Sasha Cooke, because Magdalena joins Eva, David, Hans Sachs and Stolzing for Selig, wie die Sonne in one of the greatest ensembles in all of German opera.

McVicar staged it magically, with the five artists seated side by side. Beautifully accompanied by the San Francisco Opera Orchestra led by Sir Mark Elder, it was one of the San Francisco Opera season’s high points.

[Below: singing the third act quintet are, from left to right Sasha Cooke as Magdalena, Alek Shrader as David, James Rutherford as Hans Sachs, Rachel Willis-Sørensen as Eva and Brandon Jovanovich as Sir Walther von Stolzing; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


Martin Gantner’s Sixtus Beckmesser

In McVicar’s conceptualization of the opera, the character of Sixtus Beckmesser should not be played as a buffoon, as he often is, but, as a respected member of the mastersingers who rightfully thinks of himself as an obvious person to woo and win Eva.

Cast in this role is German baritone Martin Gantner, whose last appearances in California were as Wolfram for the Los Angeles Opera [see Powerful, Edgy “Tannhauser” at Los Angeles Opera – February 28, 2007.]

Gantner’s performance proved that one can make Beckmesser an endearing character.

Yes, his unfortunate exploits were funny – he first attempts to serenade (accompanied in the orchestra by a Celtic harp) the woman he thought to be Eva and he later attempts to fit the imperfectly memorized lyrics of Stolzing’s song he filchered from Sachs to his own melody. Even so, we feel sorry for him when the crestfallen Beckmesser could not be persuaded to stay for the festivities and wandered offstage disconsolate.

[Below: Martin Gantner as Sixtus Beckmesser; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


Ain Anger’s Veit Pogner

The role of the goldsmith Pogner provided the opportunity for the San Francisco Opera debut of Esthonian basso Ain Anger. Pogner’s decision to link the idea of marrying his daughter Eva to a mastersinger who wins a song contest motivates the plot.

[Below: Ain Anger as Veit Pogner; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


Anger is one of the outstanding basso voices of our time, now familiar to several companies [Radvanovsky, Zajick, Lopardo, Anger Star in Conlon-led Verdi “Requiem” – San Francisco Symphony, October 22, 2011 and Review: Fair Weather and a Well-Sung “Flying Dutchman” at Washington National Opera – March 7, 2015 and Review: Houston “Walküre” Showcases Christine Goerke’s Astonishing Brünnhilde, Karita Mattila’s Stunning Sieglinde – Houston Grand Opera, April 25, 2015.]. Anger’s debut in San Francisco proved to be impressive.

Others in the Cast

Of the mastersingers, A. J. Glueckert stole the show as a foppish Kunz Vogelgesang. The other masters were Philip Horst as an authoritative Fritz Kothner, with Matthew Stump as Hans Foltz, Anthony Reed as Hans Schwarz, Corey Bix as Augustin Moser, Joel Sorensen as Balthasar Zorn, Joseph Hu as Ulrich Eisslinger, Edward Nelson as Hermann Ortel and Sam Handley as Konrad Nachtigall. Laurel Porter was an Apprentice.

Italian born American basso Andrea Silvestrelli made a strong impression in the brief role of the Night Watchman.

David McVicar’s Production

“Meistersinger” is the fourth McVicar production of the Gockley era that also has included “Don Giovanni” [Kwiecien Excels in McVicar’s Dark Side “Don Giovanni” – S. F. June 2, 2007], “Il Trovatore” [Lyrical Luisotti Leads Triumphant “Trovatore” – San Francisco Opera September 11, 2009] and “Les Troyens” [Review: Susan Graham, Hymel, Antonacci in a Magnificent “The Trojans” from Sir David McVicar – San Francisco Opera, June 7, 2015].

“Meistersinger” celebrates German culture, a theme that was appropriated by Hitler’s propaganda apparatus. The opera’s glorification by Nazi officialdom seemed to infuse the opera with messages that McVicar clearly disbelieves that Wagner ever intended.

[Below: the Franconian knight Walther von Stolzing (Brandon Jovanovich, front right, on riser) wins the singing competition; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


McVicar has time-shifted the story from late medieval times to the beginning of the 19th century, associating it with Wagner’s birth in 1813 at a time when, instead of a German nation, a patchwork of weak principalities existed. Many of these tiny states had been occupied and/or terrorized by Napoleon’s France.

For McVicar, “Meistersinger’s” message is the determination of a community to establish standards for recognizing artistic excellence, that are rigorous, while not being so hidebound that they prevent the flowering of artistic genius. (Wagner takes the opportunity to swipe at pedantic critics.)

The production centers on these artistic “standards” rather than the opera’s “comic” moments – particularly the usual portrayal of Beckmesser as a loathesome and pathetic caricature. The emphasis on art illuminates the opera’s more important message.

McVicar stages the opera to emphasize the inherent theme of how such standards are implemented. Ultimately, no one, regardless of one’s credentials, can be excluded. Even a member of Nuremberg’s ruling Franconian nobility can compete and win in an artistic system established by Nuremberg’s trade guilds.

Each element of “Meistersinger’s” plot is a commentary on a community’s responsibility for its art and culture.  The central plot – Eva Pogner being promised by her rich, goldsmith father to the winner of a mastersinger contest –  is a metaphor. Whomever inherits the Pogner fortune should be a man who is committed to enriching the community’s cultural heritage with that fortune.

Here the opera’s final moments – Stolzing’s seemingly anticlimactic rejection of the title of master – has special meaning. Yes, you can prevail in a system by trying something new and unexpected, but don’t dishonor a community’s cumulative efforts to achieve high standards for an art. Stolzing understands Sach’s admonition (in McVicar’s staging Sachs forcibly sits the knight down for a stern lecture) and graciously accepts the medal.


I enthusiastically recommend this production and cast for all those who love and appreciate Wagnerian opera, fine Wagnerian singing, and the genius of Sir David McVicar.

Tags: 2005-2015: William's Reviews

50 Year Anniversaries: Jess Thomas’ Victorious “Die Meistersinger” – San Francisco Opera, September 11, 1965

November 17th, 2015

Note from William: This post continues my series of observances of the 50 year anniversaries of the historic performances that I attended at San Francisco Opera during the general directorship of Kurt Herbert Adler. This is the first of sixteen such observances of performances from the company’s 1965 Fall season.


The 1965 San Francisco Opera season opened Friday, September 10th with Giordano’s “Andrea Chenier”, heralding Renata Tebaldi’s return (and final performances in San Francisco). I attended the second “Chenier” and third performances of that opera, each of which I will report on subsequently.)

My personal season began the next night with the first of three scheduled performances of Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger”, which was mounted to herald the return of tenor Jess Thomas, whose performances in Richard Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier” (the Major Domo) and Verdi’s “Macbeth” (Malcolm) in 1957 helped launch the former Stanford psychology student’s operatic career.

[Below: Sir Walther von Stolzing (Jess Thomas, right on stand) sings the prize song that wins the hand of Eva (Pilar Lorengar, seated on flower throne, left) as Magdalene (Claramae Turner, seated second from left) looks on; edited image, based on a Pete Peters photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


Jess Thomas’ Walther von Stolzing

This was my first experience seeing and hearing the 38 year old South Dakotan. Since his appearances in San Francisco eight years prior, he had established himself as a major Wagnerian tenor in such venues as Bayreuth and the New York Met. There was a lyrical beauty to his powerful tenor voice, especially in the early years, and his acting brilliantly reflected his psychological insights into the characters he portrayed.

Thomas’ triumphant return to San Francisco began an important new episode in his career. In 1965 he appeared eight times at the War Memorial Opera House, in four separate roles – including the title role of Wagner’s “Lohengrin” (performed twice), Bacchus in Richard Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos” (performed twice) and Mario Cavaradossi in Puccini’s “Tosca” (performed once).

I will report on Thomas’ Bacchus and Cavaradossi in future posts, but found myself unable to schedule his Lohengrin, particularly since the illness of the Elsa, Hildegard Hillebrecht, required that his first Lohengrin, originally scheduled for a Friday had to be replaced with Rossini’s “Barber of Seville”.  “Lohengrin” was postponed until the following Tuesday, replacing a scheduled performance of “Barber” (creating, as one can imagine, massive chaos in the opera box office and with the ticket takers at the opera house’s entrances).

Thomas was to become San Francisco Opera’s leading heldentenor over the next 15 years. I saw him perform operatic roles on 17 occasions, including a famous late career substitution for a suddenly indisposed Siegmund in a Sunday matinee performance of Wagner’s “Die Walkure”,

For several important tenor roles, Thomas was the first artist I saw perform them. He my first Loge in Wagner’s “Das Rheingold”, my first Siegfried in both Wagner’s “Siegfried” and “Gotterdammerung”. He sang the title roles of my first performances ever of Wagner’s “Tannhauser” and Britten’s “Peter Grimes”.

Heinz Imdahl’s Hans Sachs

The cast that Adler surrounded Thomas with was excellent, even though the men were less well known in the United States than Thomas or his Eva, the Spanish soprano Pilar Lorengar.

[Baritone Heinz Imdahl, who sang the role of Hans Sachs; edited image, based on an historical photograph.]


German baritone Heinz Imdahl provided a sensitive and beautifully sung Hans Sachs (a role which the great German baritone Paul Schoeffler sang on this stage and in this production only four years prior [See 50 Year Anniversaries: Schoeffler, Della Casa, Uhl, Geraint Evans in “Die Meistersinger” – San Francisco Opera, October 21, 1961.])

Pilar Lorengar’s Eva

Pilar Lorengar had one of the most distinctive voices of the 1960s and 1970s, with a beautifully controlled, but very pronounced vibrato. I had been charmed by her Countess Almaviva [50 Year Anniversaries: “Nozze di Figaro” with Geraint Evans, Grist, Lorengar, Waechter – San Francisco Opera, October 3, 1964] and found her equally likable in this jugendlicher Wagner role.

[Below: Soprano Pilar Lorengar sang the role of Eva; edited image, based on a publicity photograph.]


Toni Blankenheim’s Sixtus Beckmesser

German baritone Toni Blankenheim was an appropriately cantankerous Beckmesser, and certainly I regarded this his San Francisco debut as a great success.

However, Beckmesser is a role that San Francisco Opera associated with Sir Geraint Evans, who was not available for the 1965 season (the only season he missed between 1959 and 1973), and Sir Geraint reclaimed the role for the 1971 season’s new production of “Meistersinger”

Blankenheim, like Imdahl, appeared in San Francisco only for the three 1965 “Meistersinger” performances. Both Blankenheim and Imdahl also performed their roles in the single tour performance of the opera in Los Angeles at season’s end and never returned to the San Francisco Opera.

[Below: Baritone Toni Blankenheim sang the role of Sixtus Beckmesser; edited image of an historical photograph.]


Alexander Young’s David and Claramae Turner’s Magdalene

Hans Sachs’ apprentice David and his sweetheart, Magdalene were sung by British lyric tenor Alexander Young and California mezzo-soprano Claramae Turner.

Interestingly, in one of the curiosities of casting, the artists playing the two young lovers were both 45, the oldest in age of the principals in the cast. (Blankenheim was 44, Imdahl 41, Thomas 38 and Lorengar 37.)

[Below: Backstage at a San Francisco Opera performance of Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger” in which Claramae Turner, center, who sang the role of Magdalene talks with Chester Ludgin, right, who sang the role of Fritz Kothner; edited image, based on a Pete Peters photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


Young was to sing three roles that season (the others being Brighella in Richard Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos” and Count Almaviva in Rossini’s “Barber of Seville”), all of which I saw him perform. Yet the 1965 season was the only time that Young performed with the San Francisco Opera.

[Below: English tenor Alexander Young; resized image of an historical photograph.]


Not so with Claramae Turner, who had debuted with the company 23 seasons earlier. A popular favorite in San Francisco (she had sung the big mezzo and contralto roles in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas in town before joining the opera company), I suspect that casting her as Magdalene was designed not just for Turner’s singing but also to provide a familiar name for the opera patrons to a roster that included lesser or unknown Europeans.

Turner’s long career with the company in singing roles ended with the 1965 season, excepting a return in 1974 in the juicy comic role of the Marquise of Berkenfeld in Donizetti’s “La Fille du Regiment”, to Beverly Sills’ Marie and Hermione Gingold’s Duchess of Krakenthorp.

The “Meistersinger” conductor, Leopold Ludwig, continued as the major presence in the company’s “German wing” conducting staff.

Tags: 50 Year Anniversaries