Cher Public

Racette baiting

Protean diva Patricia Racette will perform an ethnic hat-trick in 2013-2014 at San Francisco Opera when she offers roles spanning the gamut of racial groups. The soprano’s repertoire will include Margherita in Mefistofele, Cio-Cio-San and Julie in Show Boat. [San Francisco Chronicle]

  • peter

    A major opera company presents a season of 8 operas that include Traviata, Butterfly, Showboat and the Barber of Seville. How pathetic.

    • SF Guy

      A friend who works for the Opera House mentioned a few months ago that with SFO’s current retrenchments, SF Ballet has now become their dominant tenant. What I want to know is how Helgi Tomasson is able to make the 2013 season their most interesting in years (including three world premieres and two full-length ballets actually choreographed in the 21st century) at the same time Gockley is serving us gruel. The two companies have been on opposite trajectories for several years now, and the trend appears to be accelerating.

      • Regina delle fate

        SF Ballet were in London recently, at Sadlers Wells with three FABULOUS mixed bills! What you write doesn’t surprise me…

      • derschatzgabber

        Well for starters, ballet is not as expensive to produce as opera. Tomasson doesn’t have to book lead dancers 4 to 5 years in advance. Unlike the opera, all of the lead roles are danced by members of the company. And even full-length ballets have short running times by opera standards. So there is a lot less overtime for the orchestra (which rarely requires the number of players needed for Wagner or Straus).

        Also world premiere ballets are much less expensive to create than a world premiere opera. SF opera is presenting two world premieres in the remainder of the 2012-13 season and one in 2013-2014.

        Gockley is in the middle of a major fund raising effort to turn part of the adjacent Veteran’s Building into much needed rehearsal space. For many years, the opera has been renting rehearsal facilities all over town, because the facilities in the house are insufficient. In addition to rental costs, traveling between venues in San Francisco eats up a lot of valuable time. This is part of the reason that producing opera in SF costs more than in Houston or Seattle. Gockley has stated in several interviews that consolidating as much of the company’s activities within the campus of the Opera House and the Veteran’s Building is essential to the long-term financial viability of the company. The Veteran’s Building is about to close for seismic retrofitting, so this is the best time for the modfications needed to turn part of it into rehearsal facilities for the opera.

        I would prefer a more adventurous season. But given the current state of the economy and the need for facility improvements to sustain the company, I can understand the need for some conservative programming in the next season.

        • And if that doesn’t work, he can always blame Pamela Rosenberg.

        • I was going to say what derschatzgabber said, with the addition that dancers are on salary and remain with one company. They are not paid by the performance as opera singers are. derschatzgabber implies this with “members of the company” but I wanted to spell it out explictly. Opera soloists are way more expensive than solo dancers.

          • SF Guy

            The fact that opera is more expensive to produce than ballet isn’t really relevant to my point. Neither comes cheap or comes close to breaking even at the box office, in good economic times or in bad. Both SFO and SFB operate within established budgets; donors for both companies are feeling the pinch and contributions are down, in roughly the same proportion. The question is how well the two companies are coping with current fiscal reality. (And BTW, in-demand choreographers like Mark Morris, Christopher Wheeldon and Alexei Ratmansky don’t work for peanuts.)

            SFB owns their own productions of Swan Lake, Giselle and the other established classics, and rotates them in and out with regularity. But recession or no, Helgi has found a way to leave them on the shelf next year in favor of fresher material, and I for one am very grateful. Over the last several years, it’s become increasingly obvious that SFB is regularly attracting a younger, less conservatively dressed crowd, the folks who show up for something like Ligeti’s Grand Macabre or Glass’s Appomattox, but otherwise give SFO a wide berth. The upcoming season is unlikely to pull them in, and won’t make many long-time subscribers happy either--not a good way to go about audience-building.

          • scifisci

            I agree and also as someone who doesn’t live in SF, in past seasons one of the draws of the SFO was that they could offer singers or rep you can’t find at the Met e.g. Nina Stemme in the Ring. This season and next, however, offer little of that.

      • derschatzgabber

        Hi SF Guy, when I moved to the Bay Area in the early 80’s, I was amazed by how much more 20th century music I heard at the ballet than at the opera. After a while, I came to the conclusion that the reason the ballet could get away with more 20th century music was portion size.

        The typical mixed bill at the ballet features 3 works with an average run time of 30 minutes each. If a patron hates a ballet set on a Ligeti piece, they know they can tough it out and enjoy the rest of the evening’s music, which is likely to feature pieces set to Ravel, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, etc. Over time, I suspect that many regular ballet attendees learn to appreciate modern music, 30 minutes at a time.

        At the opera, if a patron discovers that they can’t endure Ligeti, or Berg, or late Britten, they can either stay for 2 or 3 more hours of music they don’t appreciate. Or they can leave.

        I think the format of the mixed bill ballet program makes it easier to stretch the musical boundaries of the ballet audience.

        Of course, I don’t mean to denigrate the accomplishments of Mr. Tomasson. While I am not a big fan of much of his choreography, over the past few decades he was worked diligently to build a very solid company and to expose them to some of the best modern choreographers. Many of the traditional story ballets were beyond the reach of the company when he arrived. He has improved the work of the corps, while giving his soloists the opportunity to work with great contemporary choreographers.

        He has also had a much longer tenure than any SFO General Director since Adler. Tomassson spent years nudging the local audience along to the point where they were ready for Neumeier’s Little Mermaid (a piece I very much enjoyed). 5 years into his directorship, I think he would have had a much more difficult time selling that piece to San Francisco audiences.

        • SF Guy

          I particularly appreciate the way Tomasson has improved the quality of male dancing at SFB and has forged ongoing relationships with the best contemporary choreographers, which in turn helps him attract world-class dancers. Still, the company’s standards were high enough in 1978 to secure rights to the first U.S. production of Ashton’s La Fille Mal Gardee, so Tomasson wasn’t starting from scratch. I don’t find Tomasson’s own choreography any better than Smuin’s or Christensen’s; like them, he’s a perfectly competent house choreographer, and sometimes a bit more.

          You make a good point about the advantage of mixing up the music in mixed bills, something I particularly enjoy (also possible at the Symphony). Still, I can’t imagine there are many people here who attend an opera by Ligeti, Britten or Glass without a pretty good idea of what they’re getting themselves into, and on those nights, I find the audience looks more like the ones at SFB.

          • derschatzgabber

            SF Guy, my observations match yours about the different audience for Ligetti, Glass etc. It does look more like the SFB audience. But I find it’s hard to get most of those folks interested in more of the standard opera repertory. They will come for the late 20th century pieces, but aren’t curious about other operas. So I don’t know if they are a great untapped audience that would support a full season of mixed repertory (even the more adventurous mixture SFO offered in better financial times).

            It’s also frustrating to me that I have a hard time getting some of my opera loving friends to attend the Ligetti, Britten, Glass operas that attract the new music audiences. I wish there was some way to mix up those two audiences. But I’ve only seen a fairly small overlap between the two (sigh).

            P.S. The male dancers really have improved under Tomasson’s leadership. I liked a lot of Smuin’s Romeo and Juliet, but I was disappointed that his Romeos didn’t dance with the limp body of Juliet in the tomb scene (one of the most heartbreaking moments in most stagings). People in the know told me that none of Smuin’s male dancers were capable of doing that.

          • SF Guy

            derschatzgabber--Just checked my copy of the PBS telecast of Smuin’s R&J with Weber and Sohm--the dancing with Juliet’s body is certainly more limited than in the MacMillan version, but what’s there is effective; I’m more bothered by the dying Juliet’s decision to drag Romeo’s body halfway across the stage so she can expire in a more picturesque position.

            Back in 1965, I saw the Royal Ballet twice in MacMillan’s version--first an evening performance with Antoinette Sibley and Anthony Dowell, followed by a matinee with Lynn Seymour and Christopher Gable. The comparisons were faccinating, and the Seymour/Gable performance got me hooked on ballet for life.

          • derschatzgabber

            SF Guy, Now I need to see if the Smuin R&J is still commercially available. I first encountered it on tour in Seattle when I was a student, sitting up in the highest balcony. I had appreciated ballet before then, but that R&J really hooked me on ballet as a dramatic art. The balcony scene made an incredible impression on me. Sometime after my move to the Bay Area, the MacMillan R&J was presented in SF, and I was very impressed by it. Tomasson’s R&J underwhelmed when it was first unveiled. But I think it has improved considerably over the years.

            Did you ever see the Joffrey R&J in the late 70s? Juliet was portrayed by 3 dancers: one for each aspect of her character (I guess it was Hoffmann meets Shakespeare). The poor Romeo had to drag 3 limp Juliet’s around the tomb.

          • SF Guy

            derschatzgabber--Yes, that Joffrey R & J left a lasting impression; I believe the choreographer was Oscar Araiz. I remember seeing both Burton Taylor and Kevin McKenzie doing triple-duty on consecutive evenings; once would have been enough, if I’d known more in advance. AT ABT, I later saw McKenzie carry aloft both Makarova and Ferri in the tomb scene, but mercifully not at the same performance.

            BTW, my copy of the Smuin is transferred from an old VHS tape, so-so quality but watchable; I don’t think it’s currently available commercially. (However, they’ve just released the original cast TV film of Ashton’s La Fille Mal Gardee with Nerina, Blair, Holden and Grant on ICA Classics, so you never know when something’s going to escape from the vaults.)

    • TShandy

      What’s pathetic about it? Good productions of those opera are well worth buying a ticket. Last season we had a great Ring, this season we had Moby Dick, a wonderfully sung Lohengrin and an okay Tosca. I will never buy a ticket to another Pamela Rosenberg fiasco like the Damnation of Faust she foisted upon us.

  • actfive

    I saw a post by Janos in SF (Opera-L) about this--but his link showed Racette/ Millo in the MEFISTOFELE roles. The Chronicle does not list Millo.
    What’s the story?

    • phoenix

      Is Millo still singing that rep? Even with the diminishment of age I’d rather hear her in the verismo.
      -- Why are they giving all 3 roles to Nurse Ratchet? Was there a 3 for 1 sale on at Opus 3?

      • louannd

        Sombody has to pay for that new home in Santa Fe.

    • miredinchaos

      In 1994 at San Francisco Opera Aprile Millo and Patricia Racette shared the role of Margherita. Carol Neblett sang Elena. In the upcoming season it would appear that Patricia Racette will sing both roles.

    • Camille

      Perhaps Millo would be up to singing the Elena role?

      Maybe I will attend that concert recital of hers on the 16th of December to investigate further. Maybe too felicitous a thought, but maybe not.

    • SF Guy

      The full press release makes it clear that Racette is indeed singing both Margherita and Elena, which brings her role tally next season up to four.

      Much as I admired her terrific flying leap in Tosca a couple of weeks ago (talk about ballon!), I’m now haunted by visions of her bouncing back into view again and again, each time in a different costume. But unlike most of my nightmares, this one is true.

      • stevey

        What wearying news.
        As much as I respect Racette for being ‘game’ and ‘reliable’, I recognize that in saying such things I really am damning with faint praise, and am intending to.
        In reality, when I think of Racette, a German word that I recall of my learned brethren here on Parterre using for Emily Magee, applies in full force here. That word? “Mittlemaessig”
        Is there anyone here who, when thinking and referring to Patricia Racette and her long and distinguished career (which, of course, we have been fully privy to, because how much of it WASN’T based in North America??) would describe ANY of her performances of being one “for the ages”?
        Her Butterfly is highly respectable, good, it could be said. I imagine she’ll ‘get through’ the Helen of Troy role of Mefistofele (her stage presence nor, more importantly, her high notes are IMO worthwhile enough for her to do more than this). And the Showboat role I simply cannot comment upon as I freely admit that most stuff in English just gives me hives- I don’t quite know why…
        It is FRUSTRATING how INSULAR the operatic world CAN sometimes be here on this end of the pond, though… (and please note I said “can”, here… no need for anyone to unleash the hounds on this ignorant neophytes opinion…)
        My continued best to all! :-)

        • RosinaLeckermaul

          How many singers now working in Racette’s repertoire offer can offer a performance that could be called “one for the ages?” I’ve heard Racette in performances ranging from very good (TOSCA at the Met with Alagna) to good if somewhat miscast (Katya Kabanova at ENO). She’s a fine singer, but somewhat placid dramatically. I wouldn’t put her with the greats of the past, but exactly who would you cast now that would be better?
          I think it’s unfair to denigrate current singers because they aren’t as good as artists who are now retired or dead. The major question, particularly if you are responsible for casting, is who can sing the role now.

          • phoenix

            Correct Rosina -- but remember there were always house singers throughout the centuries -- contracted and available -- but with undistinguished tone. As far as Racette goes, the only recent enthusiasm I’ve felt was for a Trovatore she did at the Met 2 seasons back (I believe with Cornetti as Azucena) and a Houston Tosca bdcst I heard on the radio a few years ago. I saw her last season’s 2012 Met Tosca matinee bdcst live in the house and was very disappointed. She looked and sounded quite matronly (at my age, I know exactly what that is). Older singers can -- during or within a given performance -- have a resurgence of their former vocal glory --> as long as they still have the skill to know what to do with it (as de los Angeles did in the Card Scene in Carmen at Newark in the 1970’s and, more recently, Voigt’s prima night Götterdämmerung 2012). Here’s wishing that some lucky patrons get gripped by a Ratchet up instead of down.

        • messa di voce

          “most stuff in English just gives me hives”

          “It is FRUSTRATING how INSULAR the operatic world CAN sometimes be”


          • messa di voce


          • armerjacquino

            I can understand, although not necessarily agree with, an antipathy to works in translation. I’m not sure there’s much to discuss as far as getting hives from anything in English is concerned. It’s clearly a very personal, visceral reaction. The alternatives available, I guess, are never seeing (eg) SHOWBOAT, or waiting until someone decides to do it in Italian/Dutch/Tagalog.

          • MontyNostry

            I have to say that I find that American singers sing English better than British singers -- provided they keep their accent. Deborag Voigt, for instance, has superb, unaffected diction in English, even if her German and Italian always sound a bit Anglo-Saxon. And I love the lyrics of Show Boat.

          • manou

            …waiting until someone decides to do it in Italian/Dutch/Tagalog or the more appropriate Tugalong.

          • messa di voce

            I thought the interesting point was to, on one hand, have an innate aversion to anything in English, and, on the other, complain how insular the American opera scene is.

        • Huh. Racette has given a number of great performances in SF, including the 2007 run of Butterfly, one of which was the closest thing to a perfect opera performance I’ve ever seen, and all three in Trittico were damn good. The Tosca was more dramatically convincing and the characterization better-rounded than any of the other singers I’ve seen the role. She was a memorable Liu, Jenufa, and Desdemona as well (and better than others I’ve seen in that role).

          • CruzSF

            The Tosca I saw on Thursday was the best of the live performances I’ve seen of that opera. The work seemed new, fresh, vital, which I chalk up to the incredible chemistry the leads had with each other. It felt like the last performance in a run, when no one has to save anything for later and they leave it all on the stage. I think SF’s War Memorial favors Racette’s voice more than the current Met (based on what I’ve heard from her on Sirius from that house).

          • Oh, Cruz! We should have met -- I was there too!

          • derschatzgabber

            Hi irontongue and SF Cruz, I was also in the house on Thursday night (and Tuesday of the week before). Racette’s Tosca is one of the few potrayals of the role that doesn’t make me want to push the woman off of the Castel St. Angelo half way through the first act. Usually I find Tosca petty and self-indulgent. Racette finds a way to make her flawed, but sympathetic.

            I also saw the 2007 Butterfly a couple of times and the Trittico five times during the run. So I am a Racette fan.

            As CruzSF notes, maybe the SF house favors her voice better than the Met does. I caught the last 5 minutes of Racette singing Act I of Traviata on Sirius a few days ago, and it wasn’t good (I’m hoping she improved once she got past Sempre Libera).

            Ruth Ann Swenson was also better in SF than at the Met. For years I was incensed by all of the less than enthusiastic comments about Swenson’s Met performances. Then I finally saw her myself at the Met, and I understood the criticisms.

            I also think Racette is best appreciated in live performances. A couple of my friends have been surprised by how much they enjoyed her in the house, after being less impressed with radio broadcasts.

          • Wow! I only saw Trittico three times and the 2007 Butterfly once.

            I think you are both on to something regarding the Met and SFO. I saw all of Swenson’s appearance after 1996 and (with the exception of Manon, when she was sick), they ranged from excellent to great, with Gilda, Violetta, and Semele on the great end of the scale.

            I have heard Racette once at the Met, a Boheme in 2001 with Vargas and Relyea. I was in the family circle. The whole thing was a little distant even in the overblow Zef production, but she was pretty wonderful even from 300 feet (or whatever.

          • CruzSF

            There shouldn’t be any surprise that some singers do better in some houses than in others. Singers are people, not robots, and acoustics vary from place to place.

          • phoenix

            to each their own -- she sounds Mainestream generic to me in verismo at the Met, but unlike some of you, I liked her Verdi
            -- I wish I had heard her Mathilde in Guillaume Tell at War Memorial in the 1990’s -- I am sure I would have liked that

          • derschatzgabber

            Hi Irontongue. I agree the Semele with RAS was amazing (I think I made it to four performances in that run). I remember the long, sustained “Oh” that RAS sang at the beginning of “Oh sleep why dost though leave me.” You knew exactly what she had been dreaming about while asleep. Thanks to CruzSF, I finally found your blog. Now that I know where to find it, I will be checking it out on a regular basis.

    • derschatzgabber

      Hi Actfive. I suspect that “Janos in SF” may be Janos Gereben, who is a regular contributor to San Francisco Classical Voice ( If you live in the Bay Area (or travel here on occasion), it’s a good resource for previews of local classical music concerts and reviews. Janos did post an article on the 2013-2014 season announcement on SFCV today.

  • Vergin Vezzosa

    It would be no surprise to me if Ildar and Racette repeat their MEFISTOFELE roles from SF when the Met returns to that opera in a few seasons as rumored.

    • I agree. Those performances would offer few, if any surprises.

      • Vergin Vezzosa

        At least Boito’s piece (which I find very interesting) is supposedly coming back, having been so infrequently staged in NY since the days of the old NYCO production.

        • For me, the more infrequent the stagings of this work the better.

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      But Netrebko and Schrott would be so much more interesting in Mefistofele.

    • Gockley mentioned that the restoration of the Carsen production is being shared by SFO and the Met, exactly because the Met will be producing it in a few seasons. Could certainly be Racette and Vargas.

      • Sorry, what were you saying? Dozed off there for a moment.

      • Porgy Amor

        Oh, the 25-year-old Carsen is being restored? And, I see, stage-directed for SFO by someone else. That’s a bit of a letdown. I almost replied yesterday that I had hoped if the opera did come back to the Met, Carsen would be engaged to create a new production. When Ramey sang it in the Volpe era, the old thing had made the rounds of various houses and was a bit worse for wear. (The production, not Ramey.) Even refurbished, it’s going to be a creation of its time, good show though it once was (as seen on the San Fran DVD). Maybe given a second crack, RC could make something fresh and interesting. Or maybe he would phone it in and just make the devil a stage director, and have Marguerite lolling around in a giant bed, but I wish we would find out.

        MEFISTOFELE is not a favorite opera of mine, but I go back to it once in a while.

  • grimoaldo

    “The bicentennials of Verdi and Wagner will be marked by productions of Verdi’s “Falstaff” and “La Traviata” along with one Oct. 25 performance of the “Requiem,” and a new production of Wagner’s “Flying Dutchman.”

    How is it marking the bicentennials of Verdi and Wagner in any out of the ordinary way to put on operas that are virtually always in the rep of every major opera house anyway?
    Very disappointing the way the major US houses are just putting on the same stuff they always do anyhow and calling it celebrations of Verdi and Wagner’s bicentennials, with the honourable exception so far of LA Opera and I Due Foscari.
    Productions of Die Feen and Rienzi, I Masnadieri and Sicilian Vespers, (for instance), now that would be celebrating the bicentennials.

  • warmke

    Grimly unimaginative repertoire and casting choices. Ainhoa Arteta?
    Has anyone told Mr. Gockley it isn’t 1995? The whole casting list strikes of the easiest way out on almost every choice. Pretty awful from the company that was always the company one always turned to for artists one couldn’t hear anywhere else -- 3 helpings of Racette? Terfel? And a big helping of castings that might have screamed excitement in Houston in 90………. Time to retire, DG. Or stop phoning it in.

    Gelb deserves much criticism for what doesn’t work, but this level of listlessness is not taking place there.

    • SilvestriWoman

      Unlike the lucky opera-goers in London and New York (and, to a lesser degree, Chicago), Bryn has rarely appeared in opera in the Bay Area. According to SFO’s archives, he’s made precisely three appearances -- at a MacKerras gala, as Mozart’s Figaro and as Nick Shadow. His last appearance was in the 1999-2000 season. I’d say it’s about damn time!

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    Ho Ho Ho ! Let’s have some fun while we’re waiting for all that Racette.

  • decotodd

    The lack of imaginative rep is really depressing. In Mansouri’s last season 12 years ago they did LUISA MILLER, SEMELE, BABY DOE, ELISIR, DEAD MAN WALKING, TSAARS BRIDE and ROSENKAVALIER and I think FLUTE. And the unusual pieces were cast well.

    Granted in the 1920s and 1930s there was a lot of duplication of casts and operas with the Met. And what casts! . Now the “unusual” rep travels the country in shared productions and one gets sick of seeing it everywhere. Was anyone really dying to see a nationwide revival of PEARL FISHERS?

    • perfidia

      I was just listening to the old recording with Vanzo. I love the opera, even if it abuses the hit tune (It’s so gorge I don’t mind it). As with a lot of French opera, if we only had people who could bring the style to life, “Pearl Fishers” could be a big hit.

      • Gualtier M

        Actually when City Opera did “Pearl Fishers” some years ago with Mary Dunleavy, Stephen Powell and that Armenian tenor Manucharyan it was big box office sell out. The production had been done previously with a topless Burden and Gunn and the beefcake factor was not present at NYCO. But it sold out like hotcakes. People know the title from the famous duet but have never seen it. The NYCO “Lakmé” with Futral also attracted a big audience -- the best thing I ever heard her do.

        Regional companies are doing “Pearl Fishers” all the time.

        • Evenhanded


          Pearl Fishers is pretty thin stuff, IMO. But the aspects that make it annoying (for me) are precisely those that make it attractive to the regional companies Gualtier cites above.

          It has lovely melodies, the story is simple and easy to understand, none of the vocal parts is particularly difficult, and it doesn’t require a huge orchestra. Perhaps the most challenging aspect for staging is the setting: Bizet’s bent for exoticism was at its height. The possibilities for hilarity in provincial production values are endless.

          I don’t want to come across as too negative, but there really isn’t much on offer in the piece from a vocal standpoint, unless you can cast it with truly knowledgeable singers who are well-versed in the appropriate style. Sadly, this isn’t terribly likely to happen in regional American companies.

          And finally, I doubt that Bizet would have been happy knowing that the main draw for his delicate opera boils down to whether the tenor and baritone are buff enough to go shirtless.

          • perfidia

            I would disagree that Pearl Fishers vocal parts are not particularly difficult. The soprano and tenor need to sing with a combination of delicacy and power that is very hard to balance. In the old recording, poor Micheau sounds in extremis in many of the climaxes. But I agree that provincial stagings would kill this opera. It is kind of like a great French dish. It has to be done just right. Pearl Fishers is not a great opera, and I wouldn’t want to see it every season, but better that than another indifferent revival of a Verdi or Puccini chestnut.

          • Buster

            Don’t forget the conductor! Michel Plasson recently went back tot he original score (with much less hit tune abuse), and brushed it off with an energy and a dedication that set all the participants on fire. Annick Massis and Charles Castronovo stood out, but Jean-François Lapointe and Nicolas Testé were gorgeous too.

          • Gualtier M

            The tenor role if the arias are done in key is very high and requires mastery of voix-mixte not to sound clumsy. Don’t underestimate the baritone role either -- Nathan Gunn despite the pecs and six-pack reportedly sounded too high placed and underpowered for this dramatic or medium weight baritone role. Burden had the voix-mixte and French style down and handled the arias expertly.

            I don’t think it is so much a case of easy to sing as easy to cast. You can cast it with young singers with lyrical voices -- unlike say “Aida” or “Walkure”. So if the tenor role is hard you can still find a young lyric tenor who can handle it like Alek Shrader or previously Gregory Turay.

        • Gualtier M

          “Strapping” alert!

          Chippendales from Ceylon hit Philly:

          Nathan hits the Windy City (without a shirt!):

          • Gualtier M

            Oh and this Zandra Rhodes production got around -- here it is from Minnesota Opera with adorable Philip Cutlip and Jesus Garcia (ya know…):

          • ianw2

            Nathan hits the Windy City (without a shirt!):

            Is there any other way?

            (Also Zandra was the designer for the production, the director was ROH’s Andrew Sinclair. I thought it very good.)

      • oedipe

        if we only had people who could bring the style to life

        I agree with you, Perfidia, but only partially. The it’s-not-like-it-used-to-be tune doesn’t really apply when it comes to French opera.
        You mention Vanzo, for instance. Good as he was, he never was a hit in America; if I am not mistaken, he only came to the US to sing once. American houses (and audiences) didn’t much care for the “French style” in Vanzo’s time. And frankly, I don’t think things have changed a bit!

        As Evenhanded suggests, French opera is supposed to be easy to sing, so year in, year out opera houses cast their token French production with whoever they have on hand and want on the roster but don’t know what to do with. And the results are often blah, sometimes atrocious. But I am not sure American audiences realize what’s going on. Since accepted wisdom is that ALL of French opera is shitty (though in order to keep up with the Joneses you HAVE to stage “something French”, as Gelb recently put it) audiences tend to blame the low quality of performances not on the clueless singing, but on the music.

        French opera puts particular emphasis on the text, the nuances of intonation and the meanings of words. When a singer’s sole preoccupation is to imitate a language coach’s accent and to try and hit the (supposedly easy) notes, not much of that subtlety comes through. And the result is something akin to pasteurized French cheese…

        • manou

          Ravishing duet -- not the usual top hit tunes:

        • Evenhanded


          As typically happens when a “discussion” must take place in typed text, rather than face-to-face, corners are cut and meanings are lost.

          As Gualtier and Oedipe have both intimated, French opera in general is NOT easy to sing. It is somewhat easier to cast for a regional company because the vocal parts demand neither heft (speaking generally) nor virtuoso technique such as might be needed for baroque and/or bel canto operas. Obviously, there are exceptions, but I would hardly call Zurga a “dramatic” baritone role. That the tenor part is punishing should go without saying, but I suppose a once young, now ruined voice such as Turay’s may lend an inadvertently sad bit of evidence. (Not at all implying that his career derailed solely due to singing Nadir, for heaven’s sake.)

          Oedipe has captured the essence of what can go missing in French opera quite well, I think. While it is a shame to see it performed poorly, I agree that it’s better to give it a shot rather than trot out the same old Boheme for the umpteenth time.

        • louannd

          Pearlfishers was a big hit with the summer tourists in Santa Fe, apparently, and it turned out to be a very beautifully-realized production. But the folks in charge at Santa Fe made sure that the opera aficionados in the audience knew that they knew what a “bad” opera it was with a written essay in the program describing all of its musical shortcomings.

        • Krunoslav

          “You mention Vanzo, for instance. Good as he was, he never was a hit in America; if I am not mistaken, he only came to the US to sing once.”

          Just for the record, Alain Vanzo made his NY debut the same night as Caballe in AOS’s concert LUCREZIA BORGIA in 1965. He sang Faust when the Paris Opera visited the Met in 1976. And he sang Faust again (1984) at Opera Company of Philadelphia.

          Anyone know of any orchestral dates?

          • oedipe

            Thanks for the correction. I only remembered about his one Met visit and the fact that the Met never invited him back. I suppose they preferred other (non-French) singers for French roles.

          • rapt

            Thanks, LA, for posting that “Salut, demeure.” We all have (I’m presuming) singers whose sound speaks to us intimately and inexplicably, and beyond his admirable style, Vanzo has a voice that does that for me, though I’ve heard him only on recordings (and few enough at that!). I’m not a fan of Gounod, nor do I consider Lakme, Pearl Fishers, or the operas of Massenet the height of art, yet he makes all of these seem to me masterworks.

    • Arianna a Nasso

      The Mansouri comparison is unrealistic. His last season was planned in the boom 90s when opera companies had lots of cash. Like most opera companies, SFO has suffered not only a post-9/11 recession which squashed many of Rosenberg’s plans but also the 2008 economic crisis which we’re still mired in.

      • derschatzgabber

        I agree Arianna. Also, while he did give us some interesting repertory and productions, Mansouri put some incredibly inadequate casts on the stage of the War Memorial Opera House. Near the end of his tenure, I would look at the season announcement and think, “she can’t sing that role,” and “he won’t be audible in this house”. But I would go anyway, and my predictions would be correct. One year I got the annual phone call asking for money and I asked the nice lady, “did you see last season.” “Yes”, she replied. “Did it inspire you to give money?
        “No, not really.” I thanked her for her candor and told her I’d start donating again when the product improved.

  • Signor Bruschino

    In 60 years will Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera going to be doing Cats?

    • perfidia

      Come on, there’s no comparison between Showboat and Lloyd Webber’s first horseman of the apocalypse. Kern’s work is incredibly important and has plenty to offer musically. I wish more American opera companies put their money into reviving (with the right style) some of the great musicals. It is, after all, our great musical form.

      • Indiana Loiterer III

        Also, a piece like Showboat demands classically trained, non-miked singers; and where else do you find them but in an opera house?

        And if opera companies can do Die Fledermaus and The merry widow on a regular basis, why shouldn’t they do Showboat?

        • SF Guy

          Considering that Helen Morgan, who created the role Racette will be performing, wasn’t exactly a classically trained singer, I’m not convinced; I’m also not convinced that 3000-seat houses are the best place for a work where numbers influenced by operetta, spirituals and old-time vaudeville are constantly rubbing elbows and playing off of each other.

          • derschatzgabber

            But in 1927, before Broadway was blighted by the microphone, the differences between classically trained singing technique and popular theater singing technique were not as great as they are now. Even popular singers needed enough technique to fill a 1,000 seat venue with their unamplified voices.

        • But the three pieces you name were written to be performed in significantly smaller theaters. The two operettas premiered at the Theater an der Wien which now has seating for about 1,000, though earlier on claimed a significantly larger capacity since the galleries were not assigned seating. But it’s comparable in size to a Broadway musical house, like the old Ziegfeld where Show Boat premiered.

          In the cast of that show, only Jules Bledsoe (Joe) was an opera singer. Neither Norma Terris nor Howard Marsh sang opera, only operetta and musical comedy. Helen Morgan was a cabaret singer, Tess Gardella a vaudeville performer, Charles WInninger and Edna Mae Oliver straight theater actors. These performers would surely have been daunted by the prospect of doing Show Boat in the War Memorial Opera House.

          For my money, if a big opera house is going to do any sort of operetta, whether J. Strauss or Kern, there should be some discreet sound enhancement in place, especially to help the singers get the dialogue across.

          • RosinaLeckermaul

            Actually the Ziegfeld had a seating capacity of over 1500. I remember the pre- body-mic days of Broadway musicals and one often had to strain to hear from the cheap seats.
            I love SHOW BOAT, but am not convinced by opera house productions of musicals. For my taste, they tend to be stilted. Miking doesn’t help if singers aren’t used to speaking and singing with body mics
            What we need is a theatre that specializes in revivals of classic musicals. The City Center used to do a musical season. Now we have ENCORES, which seems to be moving more toward off-book, fully staged productions.

          • Krunoslav

            Very interesting. This sparked me to do some research. Something I never knew: Tess Gardella--mercifully *not* in blackface-- appeared as the Gypsy Queen (the Edith Coates part) in a 1938 filmed, shortened, updated-lyrics-by-Sammy-Cahn version of Balfe’s THE BOHEMIAN GIRL called A SWING OPERA. No one visibly operatic in what few credits I could find. Anyone seen this film?

          • La Gardella seems to have been a comic who could sing some. The way she adapts the melody to keep it in her most effective register, and shouts the rest is probably the style she adopted to put it over in the big Ziegfeld -- clearly audible but not vocally commanding.

            I wonder if Ziegfeld even considered an African-American actress for this part, or was the role tailored to the talents of known quantity Gardella.

          • derschatzgabber

            Dialogue does die in the War Memorial Opera House. Last summer, Magic Flute was given in English translation. Sung lines were provided with accompanying supertitles. But supertitles were not provided for the dialogue. From rear orchestra, very little of the dialogue was comprehensible. On the plus side, the few parts of the translation that I could hear made me greatful for the parts that I couldn’t hear.

    • miredinchaos

      If Patricia Racette wants to sing Grizabella, I suspect San Francisco Opera will stage CATS in the next five years.

      • Camille

        “MAMMARIES….ooh, ooh ooh, ooh, ooh MammAries…….” et cetera.

  • lucy brown

    Proposition, music fans: The next time the lottery climbs back into the stratosphere, let’s pool our tickets. If we win, let’s create a light opera/musical theater house…the kind of place that does Showboat, and sarzuela, and operetta, and G&S, and Sondheim as they should be done: Unmiked, with brilliant singers, and with a fresh respect for what they have to say, musically and dramatically. My guess is opera singers might enjoy the fun…Racette is bound to get a kick out of playing Julie, as Voigt did last summer when playing Annie Oakley.

    • RosinaLeckermaul

      I’m all for this. All we need is lots of money to endow it.
      However, Sondheim musicals all came post mics. I see nothing wrong with discreet miking of shows with the heavier orchestrations written since the advent of the body mic.

  • Lady Abbado

    Why do I recall that in a recent interview in Italy La Gheorghiu said that her next new role will be in Manon Lescaut, at SFO? It’s obviously not going to happen in 13-14 -- I was naive…;

    Do any insiders from SFO have any info about this? Maybe it’s in the cards for 14-15?

  • CruzSF

    Visit Iron Tongue of Midnight’s site for more details on the Racette fest. Butterfly is a last-minute replacement for something else (with Racette) that threatened to be much more expensive than planned. Presumably, Butterfly is less expensive (and a crowd-pleaser). IronTongue actually talked to Gockley and attended the season announcement (imagine that, someone doing research!).

    • CruzSF

      I’m shocked and dismayed that I missed an opportunity to meet you in person. I’ll try to make something happen before the SFO summer season begins!

  • zinka

    Andrea Chenier:Milanov,Stella,Tebaldi,Millo//Tucker,Corelli, Bergonzi,Del Monaco

    Next year..a JOKE Racette/Alvarez

    Gimme a break!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • RosinaLeckermaul

      Are any of the names you list (other than Racette and Alvarez) available to sing these days?

      • zinka

        Sadly anyone remotely like those singers i mentioned are not here..BUT there are some in other lands and even in the USA that would sing rings around Racette..Like Juliana di Giacomo, Latonia Mooore,etc…it is just that we cannot do Italian opera with most of what is there…we have coined the OVERRRRATED market.

        • warmke

          Please, this was also the theater that carried a large number of Dorothy Kirsten performances in Italian repertoire as well as Albanese and other competent but hardly inspiring singers. The Racette phenomenon isn’t new.

          (Thanks, JJ, for another chance to go off on this subject again. An early Christmas present!)

          Singers cannot become great singers in a repertoire unless they are allowed to sing roles on a stage. If companies are cowards and only cast Racette, then there will be no other singers coming up. It’s not a complicated equation.

          • warmke

          • phoenix

            warmke words right on
            -- enjoyed the above clip -- it may give a hint why phoenix doesn’t like Traviata

          • phoenix

            ‘this was also the theater that carried a large number of Dorothy Kirsten performance in Italian repertoire’ -- yes warmke I can verify that as a live witness unfortunate enough to get the shaft from her as my first (and most dreadful) Puccini Manon Lescaut and Montemezzi Fiora. However, in her defense, despite her lack of idiomatic italian, she could cut through the orchestra with razor-edged, sheathed white laserbeam textured crescendos in La fanciulla del west -- it was very exciting to hear in the house. But the jewel in her box was Charpentier’s Louise -- totally idiomatic, much more so than I have heard from any other American singer in that role.

          • RosinaLeckermaul

            While I was never a great fan of Albanese’s quavery voice, she was a beloved soprano in her day and certainly threw herself into her roles. Ditto Kirsten. She saved the FANCIULLA production in the early 60s after Price had vocal problems and gave a fine series of performances. It wasn’t the greatest voice in the world, but she made the most of what she had.
            As to “Zinka’s” list, Milanov certainly had her ups and downs. Good nights and awful nights with some that were a mixture of good and awful. On stage she was risible. Stella was only at the Met for a few seasons before Bing fired her. I liked her work, but she had her detractors. As I recall, Bing fired her because she cancelled a performance due to illness but was actually singing elsewhere (La Scala, I believe) that night. The Golden past wasn’t always golden.
            When I get into lamenting mode, I lament more the current shortage of tenors who can do the Verdi roles. When Berti and Fraccaro are in demand, we’re in trouble. To say nothing of the overuse of Giordani.

          • phoenix

            Ah, those golden years! They weren’t always what they were cracked up to be!

  • bassoprofundo

    great singer.

    • Clita del Toro

      That Sempre libera is beyond terrible. I am surprised because Kirsten was a very good singer. OY!

      • phoenix

        Try this one, Clita:

        • Camille

          well that was peculiar…and again, transposed down a half step.

          Long ago one read a great deal about Queena Mario, wasn’t she a comprimaria at the Met, but I had never heard her.

          Yesterday I was thinking the same thing about the golden years, while listening to Nino Martini(o) sing Ernesto -- or try to -- in Don Pasquale from 1940 or so. Not so hot.

          • Nerva Nelli

            Giustizia! Giustizia!

            Queena Mario (one of the great diva names EVER in my view, she was born Helen Tillotson and was a Sembrich pupil) was not at all a comprimaria, but a leading house soprano: one of the major ones in Met history, up there with Hei-Kyung Hong and Nadine Conner.

            Her roles included Gretel, Mimi, Musetta, Ines (AFRICANA), Lady Harriet (MARTHA), Marzelline, Micaela, Antonia, Gilda, Sophie (ROSENKAVALIER), Nedda, Volkhova (SADKO), Lucia, Lauretta, Eudoxie, Marguerite, Olga (FEDORA), Aennchen, Mary (PETER IBBETSON) Ah-Joe (ORACOLO), Consuelo and Coralita (ANIMA ALLEGRA), Juliette, Manon and Violetta. Virtually all leading roles. She sang some Flower Maidens, but so did many other important Met artists (Amara, Bampton, M. Dunn, Elias, Garrison, Mason, Munsel, Quartararo, E. Schumann, Steber, Stratas, Upshaw, von Stade, etc etc.) Six of the above roles Queena Mario sang in new productions.

            Hers was *not* a comprimaria career by any standard.

          • Camille

            How interesting, and thanks to thee, O dea ex machina Nerva!

            I remembered only having seen a photo of her as Gretel with pigtails à la dessay, and drew my incorrect conclusions therefrom. Vergogna. She also became a writer of murder mystery novels ! I shall go look those up!

            Always bracing and instructive to hear from thee, O Divina!

      • Camille

        Maybe a part of the problem is/was because of its transposition down a half step, plus clunky piano accompaniment. Why she sang it down without taking a high option at the end is what stumps me.

        Let Dotty sing Jerome Kern.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    Want fish?

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    I think I’ll move to Amsterdam:

    • Buster

      That is Ghent/Antwerp. David Hermann did a dull Turco in Italia in Amsterdam last season, so I’ll skip this.

      Amsterdam gets the Simon McBurney Flute. Looking forward hearing Maximilian Schmitt in that a lot:

      • Schmitt sings on the new Gerhaher German Aria album and he sounds really great. They both do.

        • Buster

          Have to listen to that, thanks! He is great singing Lieder too:

    • A. Poggia Turra

      Lots of imaginative Flutes currently in Europe -- Barrie Kosky and the UK designers “1927” take animated approach at the Komische in Berlin: