Opera News During the S.F. Opera Spring Hiatus

Janos Gereben on March 11, 2014
You too could be cavorting on <em>Show Boat</em> Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago
You too could be cavorting on Show Boat
Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago

The War Memorial is occupied by San Francisco Ballet, and the Opera summer season won't start until June 1 with Show Boat, and yet we found all manner of news about the company.

Show Boat Auditions

Apropos that summer-season opener, the company is holding auditions for supporting roles in Show Boat on April 4 and 5, especially "adolescent girls with strong singing ability," but also male and female actors for non-singing roles, such as:

  • Young Kim: child actor/singer, Caucasian female, looks 8-10 years old.
  • Steve/Manager: looks 30-40 years old, a conventionally handsome, strong leading-man, Caucasian male. Helpful to have stage combat skills; no singing required.
  • Pete/Emcee: looks 30-40 years old, gruff and menacing, Caucasian male. Helpful to have stage combat skills, no singing required.
  • Sheriff/Maitre’d: looks 30-40 years old. imposing "good ol’ boy" type, Caucasian male; no singing required.
  • Irish landlady: mature Caucasian female with a good Irish accent; no singing required.

Auditions will be held on April 4 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on April 5 from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in a location revealed later to candidates, who must apply for an audition by e-mailing resume and headshot to Sean Waugh at [email protected] with “SB AUDITION” in the subject line. Only those selected for audition will receive a response.

Whimsical List-Making for Opera Future

There is virtually unanimous agreement that the planned retirement of David Gockley as general director of San Francisco Opera in 2016 doesn't bode well for the company, but there is still no idea about his successor, no favorites, no dark horses, no horses at all. One hope shared by many is that no corporation headhunters will mess this up.

A couple of weeks ago, while everyone was filling in betting sheets for the Academy Awards, I asked a few opera-maniac friends to suggest names for Overlord in the War Memorial. I myself first came up with nominations of Kurt Herbert Adler and Glynn Ross, but was later informed about their unavailability. Some of these suggestions seem to be in the same ballpark, but here it goes anyway; please keep your sense of humor active, but let me know if you have a serious idea:

Francesca Zambello
Woody Allen
Calixto Bieito
Eva Wagner (she'll reduce her work in Bayreuth anyway, maybe in order to take care of the SFO)
Burkhard Kosminski
Quentin Tarantino
Joe Volpe
George Steel
Pamela Rosenberg
Peter Gelb

Summing Up From the Top

David Gockley, with miles and miles to go Photo by Scott Wall
David Gockley, with miles and miles to go
Photo by Scott Wall

Speaking of Gockley's retirement plans, although the announcement was made two months ago, it still strikes many people as a surprise. It is true, and after four decades of heading major opera companies — in Houston and here — Gockley will retire in July of 2016.

His mark will be left on the company even beyond then, with Board of Directors authorization (more likely, at their request) to program two more seasons after 2016. In the world of opera where contracts are signed years ahead, Gockley's successor will not have to face an impossible blank slate.

At the time of the season- and retirement-announcement, I asked Gockley what he is proud of and what he regrets during his tenure here so far. He answered instantly to the first question: "the Ring — the style in which we produced it, the environment being threatened by humans, the role of business and commerce ... it was the right way to go, and we had a great cast, with Nina Stemme, Brandon Jovanovich, Jay Hunter Morris, Mark Delavan, and more."

Gockley thought for a while about what he regretted, and finally said it was the cancelation of Peter Grimes. I suggested that it was obviously not his choice, the decision couldn't be helped under the financial conditions at the time (just as Les Troyens had to be postponed inevitably), so what would have been an error of his making? His reply:

I wish I hadn't so aggressively followed the plan to move into movie theaters. We didn't chose good partners, the income was divided between distributor and theaters, and not selling well, the project was doomed to failure. We needed five years to chart a new course, and it is promising one now.

Gockley was a pioneer in outdoor simulcast, long before introducing it in San Francisco, he produced what was probably the first large-scale free simulcast in Houston in 1996, with Cenerentola, featuring Cecilia Bartoli.

SFO HD Series at Sundance Kabuki

And, of opera moving into movie theaters: A series of high-definition films of three recent San Francisco Opera productions at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, which began with Tosca on March 3, will continue with Porgy & Bess on April 21, and Don Giovanni on May 26.

At $12, tickets are about half of the Met HD prices. These screenings mark the return of SFO presentations to the Kabuki, as part of the company’s Grand Opera Cinema Series, also shown in arts centers, independent film theaters, universities and other venues in the Western region of the country and around the world.

Porgy & Bess on DVD and Blu-ray

Eric Owens and Laquita Mitchell as Porgy and Bess Photo by Cory Weaver
Eric Owens and Laquita Mitchell as Porgy and Bess
Photo by Cory Weaver

The same production of what is legally and necessarily called George and Ira Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess shown at the Kabuki will now also be available beginning March 25 on a DVD/Blu-ray recording, released by EuroArts Music International.

Eric Owens and Laquita Mitchell turn in memorable performances in the title roles, John DeMain conducts, and Ian Robertson's SFO Chorus is at its rafters-shaking best. The production is by Francesca Zambello, originally for the Washington National Opera.

In a way, this version of the opera is coming home to Gockley, who originated it in 1976 (yes, 38 years ago), near the beginning of his eventually 34-year leadership of the Houston Grand Opera. After years of the work's presentation as a musical, this was a complete restoration of the Gershwins' original. It opened in Houston, and then on Broadway, going around the world, and recorded by RCA Records.

It marked the first time that an American opera company performed the work, not a Broadway or other musical troupe. It was based on Gershwin's original full score and did not incorporate the cuts and other changes which Gershwin had made before the New York premiere, nor the ones made for the 1942 Cheryl Crawford revival or the 1959 film version.

DeMain conducted then as he does in this SFO production that's now on DVD and Blu-ray. The production in 1976 won the Houston Grand Opera a Tony Award — the only opera ever to receive one — and a Grammy Award.

Porgy and Bess is the third DVD/Blu-ray release in San Francisco Opera’s collaboration with EuroArts Music International and Naxos of America, after Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s Moby-Dick and Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia.