Opera Warhorses

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

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Best Bet Revivals of Opera Productions in California – 2011

February 14th, 2011

Over the past five and half years, in my reviews of opera performances, I have identified certain productions as particularly worthy of revival, and periodically list opera companies that have scheduled such revivals (in many cases, the first time the production has been mounted at that company).  In the past I identified seven productions as “best bet revivals”. The current designates five additional ones, all being performed in California in 2011.

My characterization of the scheduled performance as a “best bet revival” obviously requires that I have seen and reviewed the performance previously, found the production to be of far more than routine interest, and regard the scheduled production’s cast  as reasonably equivalent to the cast I reviewed. In every case listed here, I am scheduled to review the “best bet revival” and will hyperlink from this page to my performance reviews as they are published.

Note that, although I regard these five performances as “must-sees”, this does not imply that other productions at other companies are less worthy of one’s attendance and patronage. My “best bet revivals” list by its definition excludes new productions, productions I’ve seen in the past but have not reviewed on this website, and revivals of productions from other companies that are new to me. Nor are the French works that I recommended in a separate web-post duplicated here (See French Opera in the American West – 2011). In the case of one California company, the Los Angeles Opera, not one of their 2011 offerings are “revivals” under my definition, and I plan to see a performance of every opera that they present this year.

As I do each of the “Best Bet Revivals” listed here:

Der Rosenkavalier (R. Strauss),  San Diego Opera, April 3(m), 6, 9 and 12, 2011.

Of the California opera companies, only the San Diego Opera is observing “Rosenkavalier’s” 100th anniversary in 2011, although it has obtained Thierry Bosquet’s elegant sets and costumes from the San Francisco Opera (in a production co-produced with the Washington National Opera) for the occasion.

[Below: The Count Octavian (Anke Vondung, left) shows his affection to the Marschallin (Twyla Robinson, left); edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the San Diego Opera.]

San Diego Opera, which has a tradition of introducing major international stars to the American West, celebrates the return of Anja Harteros, one such star, for her role debut as the Marschallin in Richard Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier”. British basso Andrew Greenan will be the Baron Ochs. Popular leggiero tenor Stephen Costello will be the Italian Singer.

The production is also the occasion for several important San Diego Opera debuts. The Sophie will be Patrizia Ciofi, one of Europe’s star coloratura sopranos, who has appeared only a couple of times previously in the United States. (For my recent review of her Gilda, see: 21st Century Verdi: Hvorostovsky, Ciofi, Kim, Aceto in McVicar’s Illuminating “Rigoletto” – ROH Covent Garden, October 11, 2010.)

The Dresden Opera stars, mezzo Anke Vondung (who is known for performing opera’s “trouser” roles) and bass baritone Hans-Joachim Ketelsen, will make their respective San Diego Opera debuts as Count Octavian and Faninal.

Bosquet’s sets are based on the original Alfred Roller sets from the first performance a century ago, yet they are vibrant and eyecatching as ever. Lotfi Mansouri, who has been associated with this productions since it was first seen in San Francisco in 1993,  returns to San Diego as the stage director.  Christof Perick returns as the conductor. For my review of a previous performance of this production, see: S. F. Opera – A Center for “Rosenkavalier” Excellence: June 24, 2007.

For my review of the San Diego production (for which Twyla Robinson replaced Anna Harteros), seeSan Diego’s Solo Celebration of Strauss’ “Rosenkavalier” Centennial – April 3, 2011.

Turandot (Puccini), San Francisco Opera, September 9, 14, 17, 22, 25(m), October 1, 4, November 18, 22 and 25, 2011.

All of the opera sets created by the eminent British painter David Hockney are artistic treasures, but the three productions from his collaboration with Costume Designer Ian Falconer are particularly noteworthy. One of these is the production of Puccini’s “Turandot”, created in 1992 for the Lyric Opera of Chicago  and the San Francisco Opera.

[Below: Turandot (Irene Theorin) presents three riddles whose answers are to be guessed by the Unknown Prince (Marco Berti); edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

For the 2011-12 season’s opening night and September and October performances, San Francisco Opera has enlisted Irene Theorin as Turandot, with Marco Berti as Calaf and Raymond Aceto as Timur. In November and December, Susan Foster, Walter Fraccaro and Christian Van Horn take those respective roles. Leah Crocetto is Liu for both casts.

In the earlier group Nicola Luisotti conducts, for the latter, Giuseppe Finzi. Garnett Bruce is stage director. For my review of a previous performance of this production, see: Lindstrom, Ventre, Jaho Brilliant in San Diego Opera’s Sensuous, Transcendent “Turandot” – January 29, 2011.

For my reviews of the two of the San Francisco performances, see: Luisotti Leads Superb “Turandot” Cast In David Hockney’s Treasured Production – San Francisco Opera, September 9, 2011 and A Second Look: Luisotti Improvises in “Turandot” Game Delay, then Hits a Grand Slam – San Francisco Opera, September 25, 2011.

Lucrezia Borgia (Donizetti), September 23, 26, 29, October 2(m), 5, 8 and 11, 2011.

Donizetti’s masterpiece of the 1830s pushed the envelope on both dramatic and musical content of operas and its direct influence on Giuseppe Verdi’s “Rigoletto” is undisputed. Yet, despite it’s glorious music and impressive dramatic situations, death by poison of the central character, Gennaro, seemed a lightweight plot device. The few 20th century audiences who ever saw the work hardly took it seriously that Gennaro’s loyalty to his best friend, Maffio Orsini, prevented him from taking an antidote that would save him from a dollop of poison that his mother unintentionally administered to him.

With Fleming’s encouragement, production designer and director John Pascoe came up with a solution to what seemed  a plot-weakening improbability. Pascoe’s solution: present Gennaro and Orsini as gay lovers. Then, with Gennaro refusing to live in a world where his lover has just been murdered (by whom he discovers is his mother), the motivations of this key character suddenly make sense.

[Below: The Duke Alfonso d’Este (Vitalij Kowaljow) attempts to impose his will on his wife, Lucrezia Borgia (Renee Fleming); edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

Renee Fleming, who has been a champion of this opera and who encouraged Pascoe to take on the production, assumes the title role in this San Francisco premiere, returning to the San Francisco Opera stage after a decade’s absence.

For my review of a previous performance of this production, see: The Donizetti Revival, Second Stage: Radvanovsky, Grigolo in Pascoe’s WNO “Lucrezia Borgia” – November 17, 2008.

For my reviews of the two of the San Francisco performances, see: Fleming, Fabiano, Frizza Fuel San Francisco Opera’s Flaming, Fulfilling First “Lucrezia Borgia” – September 23, 2011 and  A Second Look: “Lucrezia Borgia” at the San Francisco Opera – October 2, 2011. See also: “Lucrezia Borgia” – The Dramatic Foundations of Donizetti’s Opera.

Xerxes (Handel), October 30, November 4, 8, 11, 16 and 19, 2011.

Sir Nicholas Hytner devised his elegant production of Handel’s “Xerxes” for English National Opera over a quarter century ago. This opera of Handel’s maturity confused its original 18th century audiences by mixing comic and serious themes, as Mozart was to do in “Don Giovanni” a half-century later, at a time when opera was not expected to depart from its traditional formulas. Hytner chose to present the opera as a light-hearted satire on 18th century Georgian London, and, with David Fielding’s sets and costumes, created a production I regard as a “world treasure”.

In the revival at Houston Grand Opera in 2010, directed by Michael Walling, the opera (which is somewhat shorter than such Handel works as “Giulio Cesare”, “Rodelinda” and “Tamerlano”) was presented uncut – the first uncut Handel performance in modern times.

[Below: King Xerxes (Susan Graham, right) expresses his royal opinion to his brother Arsamenes (David Daniels); edited image, based on a Felix Sanchez photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]

Walling brings the production to San Francisco with several key members of the Houston Grand Opera cast. Susan Graham is again King Xerxes, David Daniels is Arsamenes, Sonia Prina is Amatris and Heidi Stober is Atalanta. Two rising American artists, Lisette Oropesa and Wayne Tigges make their San Francisco debuts respectively as Romilda and Ariodates. Houston Grand Opera’s musical director and San Francisco Opera Chief Guest Conductor Patrick Summers will conduct.

For those unfamiliar with the work or the production, I recommend perusal of my Houston review [See: “Xerxes” Unexcelled – Houston Grand Opera, May, 2, 2010.] and the relevant parts of my subsequent interview with Susan Graham  [See: Return to New Mexico: An Interview with Susan Graham.]

For my review of the San Francisco production, seeGraham, Daniels, Prina Excel in Elegant, Witty “Xerxes” – San Francisco Opera, October 30, 2011

Carmen (Bizet), San Francisco Opera, November 6(m), 9, 12, 15, 17, 20(m), 23, 26, December 2 and 4, 2011.

San Francisco Opera is one of the companies that own existing productions of the late Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, who was one of the supreme forces of the 1970s and 1980s in improving the visual look and the dramatic quality of opera performance. For many reasons, virtually all bad, much of the important Ponnelle legacy has been destroyed.

San Francisco Opera, in the final year of the Golden Age of the general directorship of Kurt Herbert Adler, commissioned a new Ponnelle production of Bizet’s “Carmen” for Teresa Berganza. It was later duplicated in a somewhat smaller production to fit the Zurich Opera stage. Regrettably, the San Francisco Opera production was destroyed during the general directorship of one of current General Director David Gockley’s predecessors, so that, for San Francisco Opera to again own the Ponnelle production, it had to buy the Zurich Opera sets.

[Below: Carmen (Kendall Gladen, center front) attracts the attention of Don Jose (Thiago Arancam, sitting beside Carmen); resized image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


Fortunately, the Zurich sets do provide the audience with the sense of what Ponnelle achieved in this admirable production. They are world treasures in their own right.

Each of the principals except for Paulo Szot (Escamillo) has performed at San Francisco Opera previously. The Carmen, Kate Aldrich, appeared in a highly acclaimed performance of that role in 2006, although she shared the role of Carmen with another artist.  Thus, her Carmen will be new to many San Franciscans. Thiago Arancam’s Don Jose and Sara Gartland’s Micaela will be their most important San Francisco Opera assignments to date.

Nicola Luisotti will conduct all performances, except for two in December led by Giuseppe Finzi. The stage director will be Jose Maria Condemi.

For my review of a previous performance of this production, see: Halevy Triumphs in Ponnelle “Carmen” – S. F. December 3, 2006.

For my review of the San Francisco performance (with Kendall Gladen replacing Kate Aldrich), see:  Kendall Gladen, Jose Maria Condemi, Nicola Luisotti Create a Consummate “Carmen” – San Francisco Opera, November 6, 2011.

For previously featured “best bet revivals”, see: Best Bet Revivals January through June 2009, and,

Best Bet Revivals of “World Class” Operatic Productions – 2008-09, and,

Best Bet Revivals of “World Class” Operatic Productions 2007-08.


Tags: Quests and Anticipations