Opera Warhorses

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

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50 Year Anniversaries: “Forza del Destino” with Leontyne Price, James McCracken – San Francisco Opera, October 24, 1963

December 28th, 2013

San Francisco Opera launched a new Leni Bauer-Ecsy production of Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino” as a vehicle for Leontyne Price. James McCracken was her Don Alvaro in a stirring performance led by Italian Conductor Francesco Molinari-Pradelli.

[Below: the Leni Bauer-Ecsy sets for the monastery scene in “La Forza del Destino”; edited image, based on a Pete Peters1 photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

FORZA 1963

In past articles on Leontyne Price’s appearances in San Francisco (which she often referred to as her “home company”), I have noted the close association between her studio recording schedule and her operas mounted for her by the San Francisco Opera.

Price’s 1963 performances as the “Forza” Leonora in San Francisco pre-dated by a few weeks her 1964 studio recording for RCA conducted by Thomas Schippers, co-starring Richard Tucker, Robert Merrill, Shirley Verrett and Giorgio Tozzi.

I agree fully with the assessment of Arthur Bloomfield, the San Francisco Examiner critic and historian of the San Francisco Opera general directorships of Gaetano Merola and Kurt Herbert Adler years.

Bloomfield’s review of the 1963 “Forza” performance reported that “[w]ith [Leontyne Price’s] soaring line, smooth from a light, sweet top down to those velvety chest tones, she had no trouble establishing the happy inevitablilty of her assignment [as Leonora di Vargas]. McCracken was the heroic, plaintive-voiced Alvaro.”

[Below: Leonora (Leontyne Price) prays to the Virgin; edited image, based on a production photograph.]


The remaining 1963 cast included the 33 year old French baritone Julien Haas (who sang earlier in the season with McCracken as the High Priest in “Samson et Dalila”) was Don Carlo di Vargas. Padre Guardiano was sung by German basso Walter Kreppel (who had been Hunding in “Die Walkuere” a few days prior). Janis Martin, the future Brünnhilde, sang Preziosilla.

(Although any performance by Price or McCracken at San Francisco Opera House was an exciting experience, the remainder of the 1963 cast, excepting Martin’s Preziosilla, was, to my taste, more routine than would be the case two seasons later, when Price would return in “Forza” with Sandor Konya, Raymond Wolansky, Ugo Trama and Heinz Blankenburg.)

[Below: James McCracken as Don Alvaro in the 1963 San Francisco Opera production of “La Forza del Destino”; edited image, based on a Maria de Monte photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.


 Notes on 1963 and 2013 Performances Attended 

This is the tenth of the observations of performances I attended (all at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco) in 1963. Interestingly, and, to a degree, coincidentally, nine of the ten operas on which I have reported is one I reviewed at least once somewhere in the United States in 2013: Bellini’s “La Sonnambula”, Mozart’s “Cosi fan Tutte”, Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann”, Puccini’s “Tosca”, Rossini’s “Barber of Seville”, Saint-Saens’ “Samson et Dalila”, Verdi’s “Aida’ and “Forza del Destino” and Wagner’s “Die Walkuere”.

Of course, since 2013 in the bicentennial of the births of Wagner and Verdi, 1963 – the two composer’s sesquicentennial year was a good reason for a new production of “Forza” and revivals of “Aida” and  “Walkuere”.

[Below: Janis Martin as Preziosilla in the 1963 San Francisco Opera production of “La Forza del Destino”; edited image, based on a Maria de Monte photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


In 2013, I reported on the new “Forza del Destino” production at Washington National Opera and the “Walkuere” revival at Seattle Opera as part of the latter company’s “Ring of the Nibelungs”. I attended performances of “Aida” in San Diego and Houston.

For “Sonnambula” (a rarity in the United States in the past half century) I traveled to Miami, for “Samson et Dalila” to San Diego, and for “Tosca” to Los Angeles.

Three of these 1963 offerings were also performed at the War Memorial in 2013 – a new production of “Barbiere di Siviglia”, mounted 50 years after the company’s classic Rennert production. The San Francisco Opera summer season included s a new production of “Tales of Hoffmann” and revival of “Cosi fan Tutte”.

In reflecting on the 1963 and 2013 performances of each of these nine operas, there is much I would like to say. I will return to this subject in my year-end “Thoughts and Assessments” feature.

There is one additional report from 1963 to be published – my account of the San Francisco Opera revival of Poulenc’s “Dialogues of the Carmelites” (which I have not seen performed in 2013.)



Tags: 50 Year Anniversaries