Opera Warhorses

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

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Best Bet Revivals of Opera Productions in San Francisco and Los Angeles Fall 2012

July 8th, 2012

An ongoing feature of this website is the “Best Bet Revivals” series. When one opera company mounts a physical production of an opera that has been favorably praised by this website, and offers it with a cast of singers who are comparable (at least) to those seen previously, then we alert potential opera goers to the upcoming performances and to our previous relevant reviews.

The four examples of “Best Bet Revivals” discussed here include three Fall season offerings of 2012 of the San Francisco Opera (two seen for the first time in San Francisco) and one at the Los Angeles Opera (new to the company). The four recommendations listed are not meant to imply that other offerings in San Francisco and Los Angeles are not also recommended. There are several “quest and anticipations” lists and a production is listed in only one category.

Moby Dick (Heggie), San Francisco Opera, October 10, 13, 18, 21(m), 23, 26, 30 and November 2, 2012.

Whether or not Heggie’s “Moby Dick” is the Great American Opera, it is both a powerfully dramatic and melodiously accessible work, that surely suggests that Heggie and the American composers who follow his example will create operas capable of entering the core repertory.

I was fortunate enough to review both the world premiere in Dallas (World Premiere: Heggie’s Theatrically Brilliant, Melodic “Moby Dick” at Dallas Opera – April 30, 2010) and the West Coast premiere in San Diego (A Majestic West Coast Premiere for Heggie’s “Moby Dick” – San Diego Opera, February 18, 2012) and my admiration for the Heggie’s composition continues to grow.

[Below:  Captain Ahab (Jay Hunter Morris, front center) is on deck with the Greenhorn (Stephen Costello, front left) and Queequeg (Jonathan Lemalu, front right); edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the San Diego Opera.]

Superstar Wagnerian tenor Ben Heppner sings Captain Ahab, the role written for him, in the first six performances. Those attending the last two performances will see the “other Ahab”, the much-esteemed  heldentenor Jay Hunter Morris. Otherwise, the cast and production is that seen at the world premiere.

The stylish lyric tenor Stephen Costello makes his San Francisco Opera debut as Ishmael, the Greenhorn. Other especially memorable performances include those of Morgan Smith (Starbuck), Jonathan Lemalu (Queegquog) and Talise Trevigne (Pip). Patrick Summers conducts.

This is a 21st century opera that should be seen multiple times.

[For my performance reviews, see: Another Opera House Conquered: Ovations for Heggie’s “Moby Dick” at San Francisco Opera, October 10, 2012, and also,

A Second Look: A Bright Future for Heggie’s Magnificently Melodious “Moby Dick” – San Francisco Opera, October 21, 2012.]


Lohengrin (Wagner), San Francisco Opera, October 20, 24, 28(m), 31, November 3, 6 and 9, 2012.

Brandon Jovanovich, whose first Wagnerian roles – Froh in “Das Rheingold” and Siegmund in “Die Walkuere” – were first seen at the San Francisco Opera, adds the title role of “Lohengrin” to his repertory, with Nicola Luisotti conducting his first Wagner performances in San Francisco.

The production is that of Daniel Slater’s with sets and costumes by Robert Innes Hopkins. I reviewed the production at the Houston Grand Opera (see Summers Leads Sumptiously Sung “Lohengrin”: Houston Grand Opera, November 13, 2009), the company that co-produced it with the Grand Theatre de Geneve.

Even though I personally believe it’s time to move Wagner’s father and son operas “Parsifal” and “Lohengrin” back to the mythical times of Arthurian legend, Slaters’ and Hopkins’ choice of a 20th century Communist state as its setting –  a Soviet Bloc Brabant – has a fascination of its own.

The bottom line is that none of the Soviet sets change the story, which is still, among other supernatural elements, about witchcraft and shapeshifting. Just think of the Politboro trappings  as just another magical spell – like turning the heir to the Brabantian throne into a swan.

[Below: Lohengrin (Brandon Jovanovich, center front left) and Elsa (Camilla Nylund, center front right) clasp hands as they prepare to be married; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

I have praised each of the members of the cast in previous performances in San Francisco and elsewhere. Camilla Nylund, in her S. F. debut, is Elsa, the bride who agreed to her regret that she will never ask her husband his name.

Petra Lang reprises her role of Ortrud from Geneva. Gerd Grochowski (Telramund), Kristinn Sigmundsson (King Heinrich) and Brian Mulligan (the Herald) round out the cast.

[For my performance reviews, see:  Jovanovich is a Joy in Luisotti’s Luminous “Lohengrin” – San Francisco Opera, October 20,2012, and also,

A Second Look: The “Lohengrin” Experience at the War Memorial – San Francisco Opera, October 28, 2012.]


Tosca (Puccini), San Francisco Opera, November 15, 16, 18(m), 20, 21, 24, 25(m), 27, 28, 29, December 1 and 2, 2012.

Last seen in Summer 2009  (see House of Puccini: Striking San Francisco Opera “Tosca” with Pieczonka, Ataneli and Ventre – June 14, 2009), the  very traditional Thierry Bosquet production of “Tosca” returns for 12 performances, again with the insightful direction of Jose Maria Condemi. Two strong casts alternate, each with six performances each.

[Below: Tosca (Melody Moore, standing) has just slain the Baron Scarpia (Roberto Frontali, lying on floor); edited image, based on a Kristen Loken photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

Team Angela Gheorghiu, with the debuting Massimo Giordano as Cavaradossi and Roberto Frontali as Scarpia, sings November 15, 18 (matinee), 21, 25 (matinee), 28 and December 1. Team Patricia Racette, with Brian Jagde’s Cavaradossi and Mark Delavan’s Scarpia, sings November 16, 20, 24, 27, 29 and December 2.

Nicola Luisotti will conduct the first ten performances, his colleague Giuseppe Finzi the last two.

For my performance review, see: A “Tosca” Surprise in San Francisco – Angela Gheorghiu, Melody Moore Split Role of Tosca, Massimo Giordano Excels as Cavaradossi- November 15, 2012.


Madama Butterfly (Puccini), Los Angeles Opera, November 17, 25(m), 28, December 1, 6 and 9, 2012.

After Brandon Jovanovich sings his first-ever Lohengrins in San Francisco, he travels South to perform what is arguably his signature role, that of Lieutenant Pinkerton in Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” at the Los Angeles Opera, paired with the Butterfly of Russian soprano Oksana Dyka, the Suzuki of Milena Kitic, and the Sharpless of Eric Owens. Grant Gershon conducts.

[Below: Lieutenant B. F. Pinkerton (Brandon Jovanovich, left) and Madama Butterfly (Oksana Dyka, right), have their first conversation; edited image, based on a Robert Millard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

The Los Angeles Opera, instead of reviving Robert Wilson’s famous production, one of the company’s treasures, imports, as a change of pace, the beautiful Ron Daniels-Michael Yeargan production from the San Francisco Opera, in which Jovanovich appeared five seasons ago. [For my original review, see The Remaking of San Francisco Opera Part III “Madama Butterfly” – December 8, 2007.]

For the performance review, see: Sparkling, Fresh New “Butterfly” Alights at Los Angeles Opera – November 17, 2012.



Tags: Quests and Anticipations