Yesterday evening Kip Cranna moderated the last San Francisco Opera Insight Panel Discussion of the season. The three panelists were conductor and Houston Grand Opera's Music Director Patrick Summers, mezzo-soprano Susan Graham (Ariodante), and bass-baritone Eric Owens (King of Scotland). Kip Cranna began the evening by asking which opera this summer was in Italian, set in Scotland, and has a mad scene. Evidently Ariodante shares all these qualities with the much more famous Lucia di Lammermoor.
Each panelist was asked about his or her first exposure to the operas of Händel. Maestro Summers first Händel opera was Tamerlano at Indiana University, Ms. Graham's first was Alcina at Paris Opera with two other Händel virgins (Renée Fleming and Natalie Dessay), and Mr. Owen's first was Giulio Cesare at Wolf Trap.
Apparently, both Susan Graham and Eric Owens played piano, and sometimes visualize the keyboard when hitting notes with their voices. This came up when Graham was asked if she improvised ornamentation, which she does not, as she "knows [she] would take the wrong turn." This happened once to her, and she is quite grateful for prompters. The prompter for Ariodante is Jonathan Khuner, and he has learnt Graham's "sign language," which involves miming notes on a piano.
The John Copley production of Ariodante was first done in Santa Fe in 1987, and has since traveled to Dallas (1998), City Opera (1999), and San Diego (2002). Somehow, the ballet costumes for the end of Act II have been lost, so that scene has been cut. Interestingly, each of the acts has a ballet at the end, but none of these will be in the version we will see in San Francisco. Other cuts include two arias and part of a duet, Summers estimated it was about 30 minutes of music that was left out, so each performance will be 3 hours and 30 minutes long, with two intermissions.