Thursday, January 17, 2008

Life begins anew: 2008-09 opera schedules

Damn, it actually takes willpower to blog on a consistent basis......

As an opera fanatic who has spent vast sums of money traveling within the United States and to Europe for opera performances, this time of year is always interesting, as the upcoming season schedules are released. Obviously, the vast majority of them consist of the usual La Bohème > La Traviata > Die Zauberflöte core rep --nothing wrong with that, they're great operas and there's always a segment of the audience that are experiencing them in the opera house for the first time-- so the one or two slots that the bigger companies use for non-standard repertory is where the real interest lies for me.

My hometown troupe, Los Angeles Opera, has decided to do three Puccini pieces in a season again but this time in the form of Il Trittico. I've only been to one performance of the entire trilogy (at the Met in the early '90's, with Teresa Stratas as a searing Suor Angelica) so I'm looking forward to this production. The long mooted Ring cycle finally gets off the ground, sans Industrial Light and Magic. Most companies start with a single opera in the tetralogy, but it'll be nice to have Das Rheingold and Die Walküre to look forward to. I have zero hopes for Howard Shore's The Fly. The basic idea is sound, I guess, but there's a huge chasm between writing film scores and writing an opera (though, of course, Erich Wolfgang Korngold had no trouble doing an opera > film score move) and I have doubts that Mr. Shore will be able to pull it off. See: Elliott Goldenthal and Grendel.

The one opera I'm really really really looking forward to finally experiencing live is Walter Braunfels glorious Die V
ögel. At last year's potpourri concert of excerpts that served as a taster for LAO's ongoing Recovered Voices project, the excerpts from Die Vogel were magical. I listened to the sole recording (that I know of) again a few months ago and was transported once more. I'll note it's also a good move to limit the run of it to four performances. I can't wait for the subsequent season's productions of Schreker's incredible Die Gezeichneten (please please please don't use the Stuttgart production--I've seen it in Stuttgart and Amsterdama already!) and my favorite opera, Korngold's Die Tote Stadt. Major props to LAO Music Director James Conlon for his advocacy of these operas.

Up the coast, the San Francisco Opera delves head first in to the David Gockley era and, for me, it's not pretty. There's exactly one thing that would compel me to hop on a Southwest Airlines flight: the aforementioned Die Tote Stadt. Alas, there's two strikes against this production:

1. Torsten Kerl, who is scheduled to sing the punishing tenor role of Paul. I have two recordings of his Paul: the DVD from Opéra de Rhin, which, ghastly Eurotrash production aside, contains Kerl's wobbly Paul and the 2004 Salzburg Festival
recording, with outgoing SFO Music Director Donald Runnicles in the pit, that's even wobblier.

2. The "one intermission" note at the SFO site means one thing: the horrible cut that is standard these days of the end of Act 1 and the beginning of Act 2. The cut takes out the last two minutes or so of Act 1 and cuts out most of the fabulous Act 2 prelude festival of celesta, bells and wind machine. It means that the first two acts are run together, lasting about 90 minutes. That's a long sing for the Paul and the Marietta and it makes my butt hurt in uncomfortable opera house seats.

Pamela Rosenburg's tenure from 2001-2005 was certainly interesting and I might be in the minority in ruing the missed chances in that period. Due to various circumstances (9/11, the dot com bust, the conservative faction of the audience, board resistence), her extremely ambitious project, Animating Opera, was only fitfully realized. The biggest success was a much lauded production of Messiaen's Saint François d'Assise, but planned productions of Rimsky-Korsakov's The Golden Cockerel and Berlioz' Les Troyens were scrapped. The less said about the appallingly bad Four Saints in Three Acts, the better. At least there's no Philip Glass on the menu........

So now David Gockley is in charge and it seems "innovation" and "interesting repertory" are ideas banished to the wilderness. I'd love it if in five years, people who support the San Francisco Opera turn on him for being such a programming dullard. Is this really the company that has done such things as Prokofiev's The Fiery Angel, Reimann's Lear and von Einemn's Der Besuch der alten Dame, among many operas done there that weren't Verdi and Puccini?

Other opera company schedules are starting to trickle in: Canadian Opera Company in Toronto is ambitiously tackling Prokofiev's War and Peace and Britten's ravishing A Midsummer Night's Dream (my very first opera ever attended) in the same season.

Further afield, my jones to hear Reimann's Lear live again might mean a trip to Germany later in the year: Frankfurt and Halle have been mooted to be mounting productions in early October. Die Tote Stadt finally makes it to the United Kingdom, a mere 89 years after the premiere, at the Royal Opera House, with a superb cast of Stephen Gould, Nadia Michael and Gerald Finlay. Ingo Metzmacher is in the pit and that should be a good thing: he brilliantly conducted the Gezeichneten I heard in Amsterdam last June.

Hopefully, there'll be a production or three of Schreker's operas to tempt me to travel, but the German-language houses usually don't announce their upcoming seasons until the spring/early summer. Damn not having the ability to traverse space and time....

EDIT (1/24/08): Lyric Opera of Chicago (PDF) weighs in with their 2008-09 itinerary. Mein Gott, das ist Lulu's Bild! Yes, one of my very favorite operas, Berg's Lulu, gets an airing. There's been a worrying trend in Germany to revert to Berg's torso score, the reason given for not doing Friedrich Cerha's completion being.....well, I can't tell, really, since his job was much easier than Alfano's for Turnadot or either Jarnach or Beaumont for Doktor Faust. In any case, a good cast on paper, Andrew Davis in the pit, with the quite handsome Paul Curran will be directing. A look at the portfolio on his website shows some really lovely stage pictures, all the better to contrast with the human carnage that is the plot of Lulu.

Also of interest for people two times zones away from Chicago is the Tristan with Clifton Forbis and Deborah Voigt as the doomed lovers, Andrew Davis again in the pit. Lyric is borrowing David Hockney's beautiful production, originally done for Los Angeles Opera and recently spruced up. For star power, Lyric is offering Massenet's Manon with Natalie Dessay and tenorhunk Jonas Kaufman. Does anyone know if Lyric is jumping on the theatre screening/DVD bandwagon?


The Opera Tattler said...

Despite how most despise Rosenberg so, I miss her. Gockley is such a gladhander.

Henry Holland said...

I never quite got the Rosenberg animus up in San Francisco. Considering how bored everyone was with Lotfi Mansouri's reign, I thought she was a nice alternative.

Sure, there's the conservative faction who just want BIG STAR singers who stand in the front of the stage amid picture-postcard sets, but it's not like Ms. Rosenberg was doing anything *really* radical. I mean, she still programmed Verdi and the *shudder* bal-cantoists *shudder* so...????

Maybe she failed in the one area you describe Mr. Gockley as: gladhanding.

The Opera Tattler said...

I put it down to a certain charming Bay Area provincialism, the way Rosenberg is still so reviled here. But yes, indeed, she couldn't put on the charm offensive like Gockley.