San Francisco Opera is resuming free streaming of productions filmed live, in high-definition, in pre-COVID-19 years in the War Memorial Opera House. The program aims to keep the company in touch with audiences while the Opera House is closed by the pandemic at least through 2020, and to raise funds while it continues to keep personnel on a reduced payroll.
Again, viewing is free, fundraising is by in-program appeals, and it’s important to note: Each broadcast starts at 10 a.m. Pacific time on Saturday and is available until midnight Sunday only — 38 hours and not more.
The three operas being released are Puccini’s Tosca (Oct. 10-11), Verdi’s Attila (Oct. 17–18), and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro (Oct. 24–25).
The 2014 revival of Tosca features production by Thierry Bosquet, based on the original designs by Armando Agnini for the company’s first staging of the opera in the War Memorial Opera House’s inaugural year of 1932.
Armenian soprano Lianna Haroutounian made an acclaimed house and role debut in the title role, with tenor Brian Jagde as Cavaradossi, and baritone Mark Delavan as Scarpia. Riccardo Frizza conducted, Jose Maria Condemi was stage director.
Attila was SF Opera’s 2012 coproduction with Milan’s Teatro alla Scala, then-SF Opera Music Director Nicola Luisotti conducting in both houses. Bass Ferruccio Furlanetto sang the title role, bass Samuel Ramey (who sang Attila here in 1991) made his role debut as Pope Leo I. Venezuelan soprano Lucrecia García sang Odabella, baritone Quinn Kelsey and tenor Diego Torre sang Ezio and Foresto, respectively.
SF Opera Chorus Director Ian Robertson, a 25-year veteran on the job, led a 60-strong chorus in a production that featured a cast of 135,including many supernumeraries. At the end of the run, David Gockley, then the company’s executive director, presented Robertson the San Francisco Opera Medal.
Musically “more Verdiesque than Verdi,” the opera has busy, time-traveling direction by Gabriele Lavia, on grand sets by Alessandro Camera. Act I takes place in an “authentic” 5th-century environment, with ruins all around and bodies impaled on high.
Act II moves to an abandoned opera house, perhaps late 19th century. In Act III, the opera house is used as a run-down movie theater, attention wandering from the singers to the big screen upstage where Jack Palance holds forth as Attila, in the 1954 movie Sign of the Pagan.
Not among Verdi favorites, Attila had only one other San Francisco Opera production, in 1991. Before then, Attila came to town more than a century before, in 1859 when a traveling Italian company performed the opera, which had been written only a dozen years before. That was the year of discovering silver in them thar hills, replacing the fading gold boom. At the same time, real-estate broker Joshua Norton had a nervous breakdown, and declared himself Emperor Norton I ... but that’s another opera.
SF Opera’s 2015 production of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro (The marriage of Figaro) featured former Adler Fellows Philippe Sly in the title role and soprano Nadine Sierra as the Countess, bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni as Count Almaviva, soprano Lisette Oropesa as Susanna, and mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey as Cherubino.
It also featured bass-baritone John Del Carlo as Doctor Bartolo in his final role with the company before his death in 2016; mezzo Catherine Cook as Marcellina; tenor Greg Fedderly as Don Basilio; and soprano Maria Valdes as Barbarina. Patrick Summers conducted; Robin Guarino was the stage director.
This was the company’s seventh revival of the 1982 Zack Brown production, with stage direction and a youthful cast investing new vitality into the great opera.