Opera Warhorses

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

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50 Year Anniversaries: “Cosi fan Tutte” with Schwarzkopf, Vanni, Valletti, Prey, Wolovsky, Grist – San Francisco Opera, October 19, 1963

December 27th, 2013

The next offering on my 1963 Saturday night San Francisco Opera subscription was a revival of the acclaimed George Jenkins production of Mozart’s “Cosi fan Tutte” that had been my first performance of a Mozart opera seven seasons before [See Cosi Fan Tutte – October 25, 1956.]

Elizabeth Schwarzkopf was again Fiordiligi, joined by three artists who had performed in the previous month in Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” – Cesare Valletti as Ferrando, Hermann Prey as Guglielmo and Reri Grist as Despina (San Francisco Opera debuts for Grist and Prey).

[Below: Elizabeth Schwarzkopf as Fiordiligi (here in her 1956 San Francisco Opera appearance; edited image, based on a Robert Lackbach photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


Also in the cast as Don Alfonso was bass-baritone Leonardo Wolovsky , whom I had seen ten days earlier as Wotan in Wagner’s “Die Walkuere”. This was my first opportunity to see Iowa mezzo-soprano Helen Vanni, who was the sister Dorabella to Schwarzkopf’s Fiordiligi.

[Below: Hermann Prey was the Guglielmo; edited image of a promotional photograph.]

Original photography by Jack Robinson.www.robinsonarchive.com

This notable cast was led by the Hungarian conductor Janos Ferencsik, whose formidable musicality I had already experienced in the previous season’s new production of Verdi’s “Falstaff” [50 Year Anniversaries: “Falstaff” with Evans, Simionato, Stewart – San Francisco Opera, October 11, 1962] and two weeks prior in the new production of Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” [50 Year Anniversaries: Grist, Valletti, Prey in “Barbiere di Siviglia” – San Francisco Opera, September 28, 1963.]

[Below: Conductor Janos Ferencsik; edited image of a publicity photograph.]


[See also the comments of my colleague, author, historian and critic Arthur Bloomfield at Arthur Bloomfield – Dropping in On the Final Adler Years at the San Francisco Opera: The Spirit of ’78.]

One can apply the term festival casting to describe the artists playing the two pairs of lovers. The Germans Schwarzkopf and Prey and Italian Valletti were familiar names in the famous European summer festivals.

Although I was only to see Valletti as Rossini’s Almaviva and Mozart’s Ferrando, these roles seemed well-suited to his lyric voice, especially when performing in a large American opera house, like San Francisco’s War Memorial.

[Below: Tenor Cesare Valletti was Ferrando; resized image of a publicity photograph.]


Perhaps the least known member of the cast for American audiences was an American artist – the Pennsylvanian bass-baritone Leonardo Wolovsky, who proved to be an excellent Don Alfonso, a role he alternated that season with Wotan (!) in Wagner’s “Walkuere”.

Like so many American artists did in the mid-20th century, he left for Germany in his late 20s to become a house singer in such houses as Nuremburg, Frankfort and Hannover. He had just turned 40 in his only season with the San Francisco Opera. I found his Don Alfonso to be vocally smooth and warm, with a witty characterization of the sly Alfonso.

[Below: Bass-baritone Leonardo Wolovsky was Don Alfonso; edited image, based on a publicity photograph.]


The American Helen Vanni blended beautifully in the Mozart ensembles that are the essence of this opera. I would later see her in the bravura roles of Isabella in Rossini’s “L’Italiana in Algeri” and the title role of Thomas’ “Mignon”.

Reri Grist’s comedic skills and bright coloratura heralded a major career for this leggiero singer. She became a mainstay of the San Francisco Opera in the 1960s for such leggiero soprano roles as Gilda in Verdi’s “Rigoletto” and Oscar in Verdi’s “Ballo in Maschera”. She also would appear to great acclaim as Zerbinetta in Richard Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos”.

I will report on another Reri Grist role performed a week later, Constance in Poulenc’s “Dialogues of the Carmelites”.


Tags: 50 Year Anniversaries