Opera Warhorses

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

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World Premiere Review: Jake Heggie’s Celestial Transformation of “It’s a Wonderful Life” – Houston Grand Opera, December 2, 2016

December 4th, 2016

California composer Jake Heggie’s new opera “It’s a Wonderful Life” was launched at the Houston Grand Opera. Heggie collaborated with librettist Gene Scheer, with whom he created “Moby Dick”, his most ambitious opera to date [See World Premiere: Heggie’s Theatrically Brilliant, Melodic “Moby Dick” at Dallas Opera – April 30, 2010],

Heggie and Scheer incorporated ideas from both the 1943 Philip van Doren Stern book The Greatest Gift and the well-known 1946 Frank Capra film after which the opera is named.

The opera differs from both the book and the movie. The opera focuses on the story of a wingless Guardian Angel Second Class, named Clara, who aspires to join the winged Angels First Class.

[Below: Second Class Angel Clara (Talise Trevigne, center left, without wings) seeks a promotion with the encouragement of four Angels First Class (angels with wings, from left to right, D’Ana Lombard, Yongzhao Yu, Zoie Reams and Ben Edquist); edited image, based on a Karen Almond photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]


Utilizing the portals that exist between heaven and earth to travel between them, Clara becomes deeply involved in the life of a despondent mortal, George Bailey, whom she persuades not to kill himself. Having successfully demonstrated to George that the world would be worse off without him, Clara earns her wings.

Talise Trevigne’s Angel Second Class Clara

American lyric soprano Talise Trevigne was an engaging Clara. Trevigne beautifully performed Heggie’s melodic vocal line composed for the opera’s celestial heroine.

[Soprano Talise Trevigne as Clara; edited image of a Karen Almond photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]


Trevigne is the artist who created the role of Pip in Heggie’s “Moby Dick”. Trevigne’s Pip was briefly  required to perform on wires above stage. Trevigne’s Clara, in contrast, spends much of the evening singing while suspended on wires.

[Below: at opera’s end Clara (Talise Trevigne, above) has received her wings for successfully performing the role of guardian angel for George Bailey (William Burden, center below, in overcoat) and his family; edited image, based on a Karen Almond photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]


 William Burden’s George Bailey

Lyric tenor William Burden created the George Bailey role. One of American opera’s most vocally stylish and dramatically effective opera singers  [see American Orpheus: An Interview with William Burden], he showed mastery of the physical and vocal challenges of the role.

Even though the plot’s focus shifts heavenward, it is the life of the human George Bailey whom the guardian angel Clara helps achieve victory over adversities.

[Below: George Bailey (William Burden, center) hugs his daughter Janie (C. J. Friend, bottom left) and son Tommy (Levi Smith, bottom right) as his daughter Zuzu (Elle Grace Graper, top right) watches; edited image, based on a Karen Almond photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]


Heggie and Scheer highlight major events in George Bailey’s life in a succession of musical episodes. The eldest son of the founder of the financially shaky Bailey Building and Loan Company, the self-sacrificing George devotes his life to his community’s needs.

Andrea Carroll’s Mary Hatch

Andrea Carroll’s luxurious lyric soprano was enlisted for Mary Hatch Bailey, the supportive wife with whom  George builds a family.

[Below: Andrea Carroll as Mary Hatch; edited image, based on a Karen Almond photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]


An alumna of the HGO Studio Program, Carroll has distinguished herself in such youthful roles as Julie Jordan Review: Houston Grand Opera’s Convincing Case for “Carousel” – April 22, 2016 and Rosalba [A Florid, Flowing “Florencia” in Salt Lake City – Utah Opera, January 19, 2013.]

Rod Gilfry’s Mr Potter and Mr Gower

Baritone Rod Gilfry took on two roles that of the iconic miserly villain Mr Potter and of the distracted pharmacist Mr Gower (whose lethal mistake cost a young boy his life).

[Below: An unimpressed Mr Potter (Rod Gilfry, center, in wheelchair) hears the pleas of George Bailey (William Burden, right) to help him save his Bailey Building and Loan company as the guardian angel Clara (Talise Trevigne, center right) and Potter’s assistant (an HGO supernumerary) look on; edited image, based on a Karen Almond photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]


One of the several examples of luxury casting – always expected in a Heggie premiere – Gilfry was a formidable presence in both roles.

Anthony Dean Griffey’s Billy Bailey and Joshua Hopkins’ Harry Bailey

Another tenor of stellar reputation, Anthony Dean Griffey gave a sympathetic portrait of the forgetful uncle Billy, whose misplacing of $8000 nearly resulted in the family firm’s bankruptcy and nephew George’s suicide.

[Below: Anthony Dean Griffey, left, as Uncle Billy Bailey, William Burden, center, as George Bailey and Joshua Hopkins, right, as Brother Harry Bailey; edited image, based on a Karen Almond photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]


Canadian baritone Joshua Hopkins, another HGO Studio alumnus with a distinguished career [see Review: World Class Singing in Classic “Faust” – Fabiano, Martinez, Pisaroni, Hopkins at Houston Grand Opera, October 28, 2016], made much of the part of George’s advantaged younger brother Harry.

Other Cast Members and the Musical Performance

Five children were HGO debut artists. Stephen Thomas played Young George and Jack Townsend was Young Harry. C. J. Friend played both the young Mary Hatch, and her daughter, Janie. Elle Grace Graper was daughter Zuzu and Levi Smith was son Tommy (and Young Sam).

The four Angels First Class spent much of their time on wires in the air, weighted down with wings that reportedly weighed 45 pounds. All four are either alumni or present members of the HGO Studio artists.

D’Ana Lombard was the soprano Winged Angel. Her colleagues included Zoie Reams as the mezzo-soprano and Yongzhao Yu the tenor Winged Angels.

[Below: Guardian Angel Second Class Clara (center, top, without wings) stands guard over George Bailey (William Burden, center, bottom, in blue) as the Angels First Class (D’Ana Lombard, Zoie Reams, Yongzhao Yu and Ben Edquist) look on; edited image, based on a Karen Almond photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]


Special recognition goes to baritone Ben Edquist, who stepped into the role of the fourth (baritone) Winged Angel on short notice and is scheduled for all performances.

Earlier this year, Edquist created the role of Edward Kynaston, the title role in the world premiere of Carlyle Floyd’s “The Prince of Players” which also took place at the Houston Grand Opera [World Premiere: A Triumphant “Prince of Players” for Composer Carlisle Floyd, Baritone Ben Edquist – Houston Grand Opera, March 5, 2016.]

HGO Choristers Frankie Hickman and Heath Martin were, respectively, Mother Bailey and Ernie.

Patrick Summers, who has had a longstanding association with Heggie’s operatic works, conducted the Houston Grand Opera orchestra authoritatively.

The Production and Staging

Leonard Foglia, who also took part in the creation of “Moby Dick”, directed the complicated staging that took place sometimes in heaven, sometimes on earth and sometimes in both place simultaneously.

I have admired Robert Brill’s inventive sets for operas as diverse as “Wozzeck” [Humanizing “Wozzeck”: Hawlata, McAnuff, Brill Create a San Diego Opera Masterpiece – April 17, 2007] and “Cold Mountain” [World Premiere Review: All-Star Cast and Crew, Ardent Audience Ovation for Higdon’s “Cold Mountain” – Santa Fe Opera, August 1, 2015.]

[Below: Robert Brill’s sets and Brian Nason’s lighting for the scene in which the community chips in financially to save the Bailey’s company; edited image, based on a Karen Almond photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]


To me, Brill’s sets, reflecting multiple portals between heaven and earth, overwhelmed the Cullen Stage, the smaller of the two Houston Wortham Center stages on which the Houston Grand Opera performs. I will be interested in how these sets appear (and are arranged) in San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House, when the opera, announced by the San Francisco Opera as part of its 2018-19 season, is shown there.

David C. Woolard designed the costumes. Brian Nason was the lighting designer. Elaine J. McCarthy created the projections. Andrew Harper was responsible for the sound design, which included sophisticated amplification. Choreographer Keturah Stickann invented the zany dance numbers.

[Below: George Bailey (William Burden, left) observes the dance steps of his fellow mortals; edited image based on a Karen Almond photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]


First Impressions and Recommendation

Heggie’s major operatic works differ markedly one from another .”It’s a Wonderful Life” is unlike the  intense drama of “Dead Man Walking”, the epic grandeur of “Moby Dick”, and the tongue-in-cheek satire of “Great Scott” [see World Premiere Review: Heggie’s “Great Scott” is a Great New Opera, Hilarious, Endearing, Sophisticated, Profound – The Dallas Opera, October 30, 2015.]

Jake Heggie, Gene Scheer and Leonard Foglia have created a “feel good” operatic work. At a time when such musical theater masterpieces as Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s “Carousel” and Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” have entered the performing repertories of opera companies (including Houston Grand Opera), I can imagine this work finding a home in musical theater venues.

Noting that the opera is not a literal adaptation of the famous movie of the same name, I recommend its flashy production and important cast of singing actors to both the aficionado and newcomer to contemporary opera.

Tags: Quests and Anticipations

Rising Stars: An interview with Leah Crocetto

November 30th, 2016

The following interview was conducted at the “ranch” of the Santa Fe Opera, whose facilitation of the interview is deeply appreciated.


[Below: Michigan soprano Leah Crocetto; edited image of a publicity photograph, courtesy of Leah Crocetto.]


Wm: What were your first memories of music and of opera?

LC: I was born in South Carolina, and in my baby years we moved to Connecticut, where my family is from, and then on to Michigan. My early memories of music and opera go together. I remember listening to Luciano Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma from Puccini’s “Turandot” as a little girl, and the Three Tenors album with Plácido Domingo, José Carreras and Pavarotti. I used to listen to that to go to sleep at night.

The first recording ever made of my voice was when I was three years old, singing Lydia the Tattoeed Lady from the Marx Brothers movie At the Circus. (I wish I still had it.)

I got into opera very naturally. I grew up in a big Italian family where opera was just a normal part of life. It was a genre of music we listened to, like jazz, or rock and roll. I even used to sing myself to sleep.

Wm: What was your first live operatic performance?

LC: In fifth grade I saw Bizet’s “Carmen”  in Adrian, Michigan at the Opera!Lenawee, at the historic Croswell Opera House. I heard the soprano Liping Zhang as Micaela. My voice already had a natural vibrato, so when I heard Ms Zhang  perform with a vibrato that seemed similar to mine, I was inspired! Then the next season I saw Puccini’s “Tosca” at the Opera!Lenawee and I was over the moon and just KNEW.

Wm: When did you begin to consider training in vocal performance?

LC: My mom encouraged me to learn about vocal performance. When I when high school I took musical theory classes, and I auditioned performing musical theater songs.

I really wanted to be accepted to Juilliard, but I was scared to death to audition. Nor did I audition for any of the major voice studios.

[Below: Leah Crocetto as Desdemona in the English National Opera’s 2015 production of Verdi’s “Otello” (center, holding parasol); edited image, based on a production photograph for the English National Opera.]


Wm: Where did you pursue vocal studies?

LC: For college, I enrolled in the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago to study vocal performance. At Moody, I met my voice teacher, the operatic tenor Arnold Rawls. He has been my teacher since I was 18.

Wm: I’ve reviewed Rawls in live operatic performance and was impressed by his singing. What were your first experiences in opera performance?

LC: I performed at the Utah Festival Opera when I was 19 as part of their Young Artists program, and I participated in Chicago-area competitions. After those experiences, there is a big hiatus in my career.

Wm: Why so?

LC: I felt that I had burnt out and needed clarity in my life. I couldn’t take the pressure. After a year at the Moody Institute, I left it and moved back home. Then, when I was 23, I moved to New York City.

Wm: What did you do in New York City?

LC:  I  waited tables at the Olive Garden and sang cabaret music in jazz clubs. After a few years in New York, I decided that I needed a steady job, so I auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera Chorus.

The person for whom I auditioned told me that I was not meant for an opera chorus. He said keep singing and we will be hearing much more from you in the future. He asked me to leave my materials. I am so glad I heeded his advice and kept singing. (I made my Met debut in 2015 as Liu.)

[Below: Rodolfo (Eric Barry, right) gets to know Mimi (Leah Crocetto, left) in the 2014 Pittsburgh Opera production of Puccini’s “La Boheme”; edited image, based on a David Bachmann photograph for the Pittsburgh Opera.]


Wm: What did you do with that information?

LC:  In 2007, my father and my mom moved back to Connecticut from Michigan. My father told me to get back to my vocal studies with Arnold Rawls. At age 27, I moved back to Chicago with my little sister, when my parents moved to Connecticut.

I auditioned for the Sarasota Opera and was accepted into their Apprentice Artists program and for San Francisco Opera’s Merola Young Artists program.

Wm: Tell me about your audition for the Merola program.

LC: When I auditioned for the Merola program, they had me sing my entire catalogue of prepared operatic arias. Its director, Sheri Greenawald, slammed down her hand on the table and said that I had a voice. [See Interview with San Francisco Opera Center’s Sheri Greenawald.]

She asked what I had been up to over the past six years, and I told her that I had obtained an acting degree, and had helped my dad while he was very ill. (My father passed away in 2008 just before I began the Merola program.)

Sheri asked me to learn the role of Donna Anna in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” and Alan Darling taught me how to sing it. That is what landed me in the Merola program!

Wm: What did the Merola program teach you?

LC:  I knew that I lacked experience. I was green, but hungry to learn.

The program taught me to be appreciative of other artists, and how to be a good colleague. So many singers don’t ever learn how to do that, and I saw people that were already tired and disconnected from their careers.

In addition to guiding vocal and dramatic training, the Merola program provides incredible performance opportunities. I sang in San Francisco Opera’s annual Schwabacher concert, as the title role in Massenet’s “Manon”. I sang the Saint-Sulpice scene (with Nathaniel Peake as Chevalier Des Grieux and Ben Wager as the Comte) and the second act of Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale”(with René Barbera as Ernesto, David Pershall as Malatesta and Ben Wager as Pasquale). We always say the Merola Class of 2008 was the “dream cast”. Every one of us has a career, and we’re all close friends.

The Donizetti ensemble, which contains so much coloratura, truly allowed me to find my coloratura voice. It was amazing, and helped me to make my mark that summer. I received great press from that performance, and things started to fall into place.

[Below: Leah Crocetto as Liu in the 2011 revival of David Hockney’s production of Puccini’s “Turandot”; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


Wm: In my interview with Sheri Greenawald (cited above) she commented on the decision of the San Francisco Opera to offer you an Adler Fellowship at the end of the Merola Program.

LC: When I found that I had been selected to be an Adler fellow, I knew my career was not just a fluke. I got to cover incredible sopranos, including Sondra Radvanovsky as Leonora in Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” and Patricia Racette as Marguerite in Gounod’s “Faust” and in the title role of Puccini’s “Suor Angelica”. I also covered the Countess in Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” and Donna Anna in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”. I feel fortunate that all the roles that I covered are roles that I’m singing now.

Wm: It’s very unusual for a soprano to have within her repertory the roles of the Countess, Donna Anna, Norina, Marguerite, Leonora in “Trovatore” and Suor Angelica. And your role debut as Verdi’s “Aida” is scheduled at the San Francisco Opera. Do you see yourself specializing in a particular type of soprano role, or will you continue to sing a wide-ranging repertory?

LC: I would love to sing the whole Italian spectrum. I’ve enjoyed singing the bel canto roles of Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti. I’ve sung the title role of Rossini’s “Semiramide”, and, of course, you saw me sing Anna in Rossini’s “Maometto II” at Santa Fe Opera.

Wm: Yes, in fact I was at the performance which was one of stormy nights that occasionally inflict Santa Fe Opera performances. [See Stormy Weather, But Strong Performances from Pisaroni, Crocetto, Bardon, Sledge in Rossini’s “Maometto II” – Santa Fe Opera, August 2, 2012.]

LC: That was a legendary performance. It was the most difficult and memorable night thus far in my career so far. The wind was blowing so hard! The audience at the theater’s open sides left their seats and were sitting in the center aisles. Just getting through the night was one of my proudest moments.

Wm: Before we discuss some of the other composers, let’s talk some more about your Rossini performances.

LC: Rossini’s operas are calisthenics for the voice. He offers the artist a freedom to vary what is sung, so that there is excitement as to how the vocal line is altered and what vocal ornaments an artist can choose to sing. When I practice my scales and runs I use the pop technique of “back singing”. Having a background in jazz is extremely helpful in singing Rossini.

[Below: Leah Crocetto is Anna and Elizabeth DeShong is Calbo in the Canadian Opera production of Rossini’s “Maometto II”; edited image, based on a production photograph for the Canadian Opera Company.]


Wm: In my interview with Rossini tenor Lawrence Brownlee, he made the point that the melismatic singing (several notes sung to a single syllable) associated with gospel music is great preparation for Rossini. What Rossini roles are you considering, beyond Anna and Semiramide?

LC: I’m interested in performing the title roles in “Zelmira” and “La donna del lago”. I see them eventually leading to the title role in Bellini’s “Norma”.

Wm: What about Adalgisa in “Norma”?

LC:  I was offered the role as a young artist, but declined, because its tessitura is not a good fit for my voice.

Wm: What about Donizetti beyond Norina?

LC: I’d like to do the title role of “Lucia di Lammermoor” before I’ve moved past that repertoire, but I am not sure that will happen. The big Donizetti “wish list” roles for me are the Queens!

Wm: What other roles are you looking forward to trying?

LC: I’m lucky that virtually all of the roles that I consider my favorites, I already sing or have in my future schedule. I will be singing many more Leonoras from Verdi’s “Il Trovatore”. That is a role that has been steady in  my career. I made my European debut in the role at Opéra National de Bordeaux and got to sing it at the Arena di Verona in the great Zeffirelli production! Beyond that I would love to sing Floyd’s “Susannah” and also Tatyana in Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin”. Gorgeous music. All the Verdi heroines are in my future schedule!

Wm: We are here on the “Santa Fe Opera Ranch”. What are your thoughts about this company?

LC: I feel at home. Here in Santa Fe, despite the altitude and allergies, I know that I become a better singer whenever I’m back. They let me try things here. The summer is long, so there is ample time to work on other roles and projects in addition to my operatic assignment.

The administration is a dream – Charles MacKay, the general director, Brad Woolbright, the director of artistic administration, and Adam Franklin, the artistic administrator. They are all like family to us.

[Below: Donna Anna (Leah Crocetto, center) is disconsolate over the death of her father, the Commendatore (Soloman Howard, lying at her feet); edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera.]


Wm: Now we can return to “Aida” and your role debut at the San Francisco Opera.

LC: Oh yes! I’ve seen questions about it on social media, where of course many opinions are shared. I’ve been working with coaches on preparing the role, and I’m so excited to sing my first Aida in San Francisco.

Wm: You will be singing this role under Maestro Nicola Luisotti whom you’ve performed as Liu [Luisotti Leads Superb “Turandot” Cast In David Hockney’s Treasured Production – San Francisco Opera, September 9, 2011] as the Soprano [San Francisco, Naples Jointly Celebrate Verdi Bicentennial With “Manzoni Requiem” – San Francisco Opera, October 25, 2013] and as Luisa Miller [Review: A Second Look at “Luisa Miller” at the San Francisco Opera – September 27, 2015]. As musical director of the San Francisco Opera, I assume you have been selected as Aida, because he feels you are right for the role.

LC:  I feel protected when I sing with Maestro Luisotti. He leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra perfectly, and the rapport between myself, the conductor and the orchestra makes me feel very safe.

Wm: What does a conductor do that makes you feel safe?

LC: I have a distinctive vibrato that has a particular rhythm, as all singers do. A good conductor knows how to work with that rhythm. It’s collaboration. For example, I am here in Santa Fe singing Donna Anna under Maestro John Nelson. He understands an artist’s vibrato and is a joy to work with in this music. Same for Harry Bicket, who conducted me in “Maometto Secondo” in Toronto.

Maestro Riccardo Frizza is another conductor that I adore. He is one who feeds you so much from the pit. I was singing the role of Desdemona in Verdi’s “Otello” at the Oper Frankfurt, and Maestro Frizza and I had such a great moment during the performance. I was looking at him and he was providing me support, and knew that we were making great art together. I felt on that important night of my career, that the performance was magical.

I also love working with Maestro Donald Runnicles, and am dying to work with him again. He is so organic. There is nothing forced or showy in his performance. What he does is truly legitimate music making. He’s well liked by the orchestras and singers. I’ve never heard a singer speak ill of him. I would watch him conduct anything.

The first Wagnerian operatic performance I ever heard, was when I was in the Merola program and Runnicles was conducting “Das Rheingold”. The sound that came from the orchestra under his baton was so beautiful.

Wm: I suspect there are some conductors who won’t make your list of favorites. What might a conductor do wrong?

LC: I’ve worked with some conductors that don’t look at singers at all. It’s the conductor’s responsibility to know a singer’s capabilities and to figure how to work together. I remember a conductor who, when I first started performing, burned me and left me in the dust during a performance. Sometimes ego gets in the way of artistic collaboration.

Wm: You had the distinction of having the title role Verdi’s “Luisa Miller” for the opening night of the San Francisco Opera’s 2015-16 season. That was another career milestone, wasn’t it?

LC: It was a dream come true. After I performed Liu in the 2011 season opener of “Turandot”, San Francisco Opera’s general director David Gockley told me that I would be performing the role of Luisa Miller to open his final season as director. What a wonderful experience, with Michael Fabiano as Rodolfo, the tenor lead, in a Francesca Zambello production, with both Laurie Feldman, Francesca’s associate director, and Francesca herself.

I’ll never forget the rehearsal in which we staged the final scene in “Luisa Miller”. That staging turned into what I believe was some of the most powerful staging of my career. Michael and I know the music well, and are so comfortable singing with each other. The final trio (with Vitaliy Bilyy’s Miller) was sung so naturally every performance, that I don’t have sufficient words to express its effect.

[Below: Leah Crocetto (left) is Luisa Miller and Michael Fabiano (right) is Rodolfo in the 2015 revival of Francesca Zambello’s production of Verdi’s “Luisa Miller”; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


Wm: It’s obvious that you have a special rapport working with Michael Fabiano.

LC: I don’t feel any inhibitions working with Michael. He cares so much about the story being told and bringing it forth to the audience. He feels the drama and wants the audience to feel what he’s feeling. Each night we sang it was like we were living our parts.

Wm: It’s quite impressive that two previous San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows  – you and Brian Jagde – have been chosen to sing Aida and Radames in a new Francesca Zambello production, and that you (separately) will be debuting at the 2017 Glimmerglass Festival in a lead role in Donizetti’s “The Siege of Calais”.

LC: The San Francisco Opera “Aida” is an incredible honor for both Brian and I. We couldn’t be more thrilled. And to be tackling these gargantuan roles together is a gift, as we already know each other very well! As I am making my role debut as Aida in Francesca Zambello’s brand new production, all I can think about is how grateful I am to have the responsibility of this epic role. It’s a role that Leontyne Price debuted in San Francisco in 1957, and I am fortunate to have such a wonderful working relationship with Francesca.

Our future endeavors together will be fantastic, including my debut as Eleonora in Donizetti’s “The Siege of Calais” this summer at the Glimmerglass Festival. It is also the American premiere. It has never been done this side of the pond! I look forward to working with her on many projects in the years to come.

[Below: Leah Crocetto (below) is Aida and Ekaterina Semenchuk is Amneris in the Francesca Zambello production of Verdi’s “Aida” at the San Francisco Opera; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


Wm: I expect to be at your role debut as Eleonora. Leah, thank you for an informative interview.

LC: Thank You! Absolutely my pleasure!


A Second Look: Luisotti Improvises in “Turandot” Game Delay, then Hits a Grand Slam – San Francisco Opera, September 25, 2011

Review: Crocetto, Berrugi, Dehn, Mulligan Star in Well-sung, Intelligently-Acted “La Boheme” – San Francisco Opera, November 15, 2014

Review: Zambello’s Production of Poulenc’s “Dialogues of the Carmelites” at the Kennedy Center – March 8, 2015

Review: Michael Fabiano’s Star Ascends in Verdi’s “Luisa Miller” – San Francisco Opera, September 11, 2015.

Review: Okulitch, Ketelsen Star in Santa Fe Opera’s New “Don Giovanni”, July 2, 2016.


Tags: 2008-2016 William's Interviews

In Quest of Italian Opera Masterpieces, March – July, 2017

November 28th, 2016

This summer, I will be reporting on productions in San Diego and San Francisco of Italian operas by Mozart, Verdi and Puccini:


Falstaff (Verdi), San Diego Opera, March 18, 21, 24 and 26(m), 2017.

Italian baritone Roberto de Candia makes his San Diego Opera debut in the title role of Verdi’s “Falstaff”, in the famous production by French director Olivier Tambosi. Ford is played by Troy Cook, his wife Alice by soprano Ellie Dehn. Maureen McKay is Nannetta, Jonathan Johnson is Fenton, Marianne Cornetti is Dame Quickly and Kirstin Chavez is Meg Page.

[Below: Roberto de Candia as Sir John Falstaff; edited image, based on an edited image of a production photograph for the Florence (Italy) Opera.]


Falstaff’s henchmen are played by Simeon Esper (Bardolfo) and Reinhard Hagen (Pistola). Joel Sorensen is Dr Caius. Daniele Callegari conducts.


Rigoletto (Verdi), San Francisco Opera, May 31, June 6, 9, 14, 18(m), 22, 27 and July 1, 2017.

Hawai’ian baritone Quinn Kelsey returns to the San Francisco Opera for the title role of “Rigoletto”, his seventh role in San Francisco ( and his fifth by Verdi). The now 20-year old Michael Yeargan production will be the occasion for the San Francisco Opera debut of the Republic of Georgia lyric soprano Nino Machaidze as Gilda.

[Below: Quinn Kelsey as Rigoletto in the English National Opera production of Verdi’s “Rigoletto”; edited image of a production photograph for the English National Opera.]


Samoan-born New Zealand tenor Pene Pati is the Duke of Mantua, Italian-born American basso Andrea Silvestrelli is Sparafucile, Latvian mezzo-soprano Zanda Svede is Maddalena. Rob Kearley directs. Maestro Nicola Luisotti conducts the first six performances, and Maestro Jordi Bernàcer conducts the seventh.


Don Giovanni (Mozart), San Francisco Opera, June 4(m), 8, 11(m), 13, 21,24 and 30, 2017.

Italian bass-baritone Ildebrando d’Arcangelo makes his San Francisco Opera debut as Don Giovanni, and with him soprano Erin Wall (debut) as Donna Anna, Stansilas de Barbeyrac (debut) as Don Ottavio and Ana Maria Martinez as Donna Elvira. Marco Vinco repeats his San Francisco debut role Leporello. Michael Sumuel is Masetto and Sarah Shafer is Zerlina. Also debuting is Maestro Marc Minkowski.

[Below: Ildebrando d’Arcangelo as Don Giovanni in the Los Angeles Opera’s production of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]


The new production is that of Italian director Jacopo Spirei, with projections and scenic adaptations by German designer Tommi Brem and costumes by Andrea Viotti.


La Boheme (Puccini), San Francisco Opera, June 10, 15, 17, 20, 23, 25(m), 29 and July 2, 2017.

Mexican tenor Arturo Chacon-Cruz will be Rodolfo in the revival of Puccini’s “La Boheme” taking place roughly 50 years after the San Francisco Opera debut of Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti in the role. His Mimi will be Italian soprano Erika Grimaldi for every performance excepting the evenings of June 20 and 25, when California soprano Julie Adams takes over the role.

[Below: Arturo Chacon-Cruz as Rodolfo; edited image of a YouTube video for Opéra Royal de Wallonie-Liège.]


Minnesota soprano Ellie Dehn is Musetta. Auden Iversen is Marcello, Scott Conner is Colline. John Caird is Director. The production designer is David Farley. The Conductor is Maestro Carlo Montanaro.


This list is supplementary to previous lists in this “Quests and Anticipations” series of selected operas being performed through August 2017:

Heggie’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” at the Houston Grand Opera [See In Quest of Repertory-Expanding Operas – April-December, 2016.]

Johann Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus” at the Santa Fe Opera [See In Quest of Operatic Comedy – July 2016 – August 2017.]

Weber’s “Der Freischütz” at the Virginia Opera and Montemezzi’s “L’Amore dei Tre Re” at the Sarasota Opera [See In Quest of Intriguing Operas, Casts and Productions – October 2016-March 2017.]

Janacek’s “Katya Kabanova” at the Seattle Opera, Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann” at the Los Angeles Opera and Wagner’s Götterdammerüng at the Houston Grand Opera [See In Quest of Less-Often Performed Core Repertory Operas – November 2016 -May 2017.]

Bellini’s “Norma” at The Dallas Opera, Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” at the Santa Fe Opera and Donizetti’s “L’Assedio di Calais” at the Glimmerglass Festival [See In Quest of Donizetti and Bellini – November 2016 to August 2017.]

Tags: Quests and Anticipations