David Gockley

Auditions for the General Director 2009

2009_Schwabacher_Summer_Concert_Cast * Notes *
This year's Auditions for the General Director of San Francisco Opera were yesterday evening, featuring the participants of the Merola Opera Program. It certainly was not a dull performance, and watching the 2009 crop of singers develop will be fascinating. I especially liked hearing the returning Merolini, Nathaniel Peake, in particular, has improved. His voice has a fuller bloom, so I do look forward to hearing him in the title role of L'Amico Fritz. Kate Crist sounded more secure "Du bist der Lenz" than this time last year and Benjamin LeClair continued to sound wonderful in "Come dal ciel precipita."

As for the newcomers, tenor Gregory Carroll and contralto Suzanne Hendrix seemed most promising at this early stage. Carroll has a warm, full tone, and sang both Wagner and Leoncavallo nicely. Hendrix was incredible as Erda, better than what we have heard recently on the main stage production last summer. Baritone Michael Sumuel sang "O Du, Mein Holder Abendstern" very beautifully, and mezzo Maya Lahyani has some great stage presence.

For what it is worth, David Gockley called back Evan Boyer, Lori Guilbeau, Maya Lahyani, Ryan Belongie, Brian Jadge, Sara Gartland, Gregory Carroll, Susannah Biller, and Suzanne Hendrix.

* Tattling *
Not only was there a huge and loud Pride celebration going on outside at Civic Center, but a determined crowd of Anna Netrebko fans waiting in line for a signing in the lobby of the War Memorial. However, both were more or less inaudible inside the hall. There was scattered whispering and a bit of talking amongst the audience members.

Cost Cutting at SF Opera

San Francisco Opera's General Director has announced further cost cutting of 1 million dollars from the 2009-2010 budget. Cuts include four open positions that will not be filled for the time being, one week of unpaid leave in January for all administrative staff, no employer contributions to the 401(a) plan, employees having to contribute more to their health care, no more parking subsidies, and a 5% pay cut for the top five executives of the company.

Press Release [PDF] | Official Site

SF Opera's Annual Meeting 2009

* Notes *
San Francisco Opera's Annual Meeting for 2009 was held yesterday afternoon, over in one of the rehearsal halls in Davies. Board of Directors President George H. Hume, General Director David Gockley, and CFO Michael Simpson all gave reports. The mood is considerably more gloomy than last year, the endowment is down by some $30-35 million, though ticket sales are quite strong. The Netrebko performances of La Traviata are sold-out, and Porgy and Bess will undoubtedly sell out as well. It was admitted that the cinemacasts have not been a success, and that the Met has a stranglehold on distribution to the major cinemas.

In addition to canceling Peter Grimes next season, San Francisco Opera has reduced the number of performances, limited rehearsal times, cut a revival of La Bohème, and is not putting on family performances next year. However, three cycles of Der Ring will be performed in 2011, in the style of Bayreuth.

The War Memorial Veterans Building is slated to be seismically retrofitted, and an annex may be added to alleviate some of the space limitations the opera has. Apparently San Francisco Opera has storage space out in Potrero Hill, a costume shop in SOMA, and an annex on Ivy Street. SFJAZZ has plans to move over to a new venue on Franklin near Fell, so it may also be the case that some smaller scale works may have a chance to be performed by San Francisco Opera in Herbst.

There were five Adlers that performed, sopranos Leah Crocetto and Tamara Wapinsky, mezzo Daniela Mack, tenor Alek Shrader, and pianist Allen Perriello. Shrader's diction and control were good in "Ich baue ganz," though he sounded constrained at the top of his voice. Crocetto gave a powerful performance of "My man's gone now," she really sounded like she could shatter glass with her voice. Wapinsky sang "O mio babbino caro" fairly well, she has a lot of vibrato, but she stayed in tune. Mack and Shrader were perfectly charming in "Un soave non so che," both were deft and light in their approach.

* Tattling *
A cellular phone rang as Gockley introduced Crocetto. Also, it was confirmed that Le Nozze di Figaro is slated for 2010-2011, with Luisotti conducting. We also may well hear Dead Man Walking in the next 5 or 6 years.

Medallion Society Luncheon 2009

* Notes *
San Francisco Opera's Medallion Society Luncheon was held yesterday at the Ritz-Carlton. George Hume, Sheri Greenawald, and David Gockley addressed the 660 people in attendance. Barbara K. Jackson was given the Spirit of the Opera Award.

Adler Fellows Andrew Bidlack, Leah Crocetto, Dennis Doubin, Kenneth Kellogg, Austin Kness, David Lomelí, Heidi Melton, and Allen Perriello performed works from Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Il Trovatore, Pagliacci, and La Traviata.

* Tattling * 
The audience fairly good, though one's expecations were not particularly high, given that it was a luncheon. Mr. Feldheim of Not For Fun Only made a fine date to this event. He tolerated costume-like attire and all manner of opera-related chatter. Our table had a thank you note from SF Opera's Head of Music Staff, John Parr.

Post L'elisir Talk (5/5)

David Gockley reiterated his statement from last Sunday's Bohème, that though productions might cut or would be less elaborate, San Francisco Opera would never compromise on vocal quality, despite a downturn in the economy. He also gave hints on San Francisco Opera's latest commissions, the topics include heroism and 9/11, Mary Magdalene, and Hurricane Katrina.

Post L'elisir Talk (4/5)

David Gockley confirmed that Peter Grimes, which was to be part of the 2009-2010 season at San Francisco Opera, is likely to be one of the casualties of the economic downturn, just as La Cieca reported yesterday. Gockley also promised to add "no sniffling" to the list of admonitions printed in the program.

In related news, the cast for this season's Porgy and Bess has been finally announced, at least, officially. The cast includes Eric Owens (Porgy), Laquita Mitchell (Bess), Gregg Baker (Crown), Karen Slack (Serena), Chauncey Parker (Sportin' Life), Angel Blue (Clara), Eric Greene (Jake), and Alteouise deVaughn (Maria).

Post L'elisir Talk (3/5)

David Gockley started off his talk by highlighting the various opera news stories of the week. Baltimore Opera and New York City Opera both have lost their heads, Opera Pacific has closed, and Washington National Opera is postponing their Ring. This last item is of especial importance to San Francisco Opera, as it is a co-production between the two companies. If the National Opera cancels their cycle, then San Francisco Opera would have to pay for all of Götterdämmerung. Cost cutting is happening at SF Opera as well, and it is possible the cinemacasts will not continue.

More amusingly, Gockley apparently thinks Jonas Kaufmann is the bee's knees and mentioned that he is much more handsome than Domingo was at a similar stage of his career. Hopefully Kaufmann will be wooed here soon. We also learnt that next season's opener will be a Verdi opera conducted by Luisotti, and not My Fair Lady. Two other operas were confirmed for next season, but we were made to promise not to tell anyone else what they are. The new operas in upcoming years include ones from Mark Adamo, Christopher Theofanidis, and a female composer whose name escaped being mentioned.

Post L'elisir Talk (2/5)

Before the talk began there was chatter about how a falling football damaged the principal bassoonist's bassoon during the evening's performance. Again, the economy was spoken of, and ticket sales have gone down starting with Idomeneo, though La Bohème is doing well, naturally. Nicola Luisotti is taking the helm as music director soon, and the plan is that he will conduct four operas each season, three of these will be Italian, with the remaining one being something to expand his repertoire. Gounod's Faust is to be performed next year. Nixon in China is also on the schedule, though exactly when was not made clear. Gockley denied having anything to do with Boosey & Hawkes' withdrawal of permission for the Nixon in China production that was to be at Trinity Lyric Opera this year.

Post L'elisir Talk (1/5)

Much was said about the faltering economy. Porgy and Bess has been cast, though not all the contracts have been signed. Eric Owens will be Porgy and Laquita Mitchell sings Bess. The cinemacasts continue next Spring, with The Magic Flute, Lucia, Elixir, and La Bohème. As for next season, there will be a Richard Strauss opera conducted by Luisotti, but it is not Die Schweigsame Frau or Capriccio. (Gockley declined to name which opera it was but we've heard Salomé mentioned several times on different occasions.) The next world premiere is planned for 2011-2012.

The Opera Dukes

Operadukes   * Notes *
San Francisco Opera's bluegrass band The Opera Dukes played at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass yesterday. The singers included former and current Adler Fellows Matthew O'Neill, Jeremy Galyon, Heidi Melton, Daniela Mack, along with General Director David Gockley. They were accompanied by bandleader O'Neill himself on guitar,
Craig Reiss (violin), Jonathan Lancelle (bass), Alisa Rose (violin), David Zimmerman (mandolin), and David Walker (banjo).

The performance was exceedingly silly and bluegrass versions of various opera tunes were amusing. Melton was particularly great singing a waltzy rendition of "Hojotoho!" Gockley has a pleasant light baritone, though he sang an actual bluegrass song.

Matt O'Neill explained that the state of his facial hair was due to being in Boris Godunov rather than for this festival. He also mentioned that while they might not be the best group at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, they certainly were the weirdest.

* Tattling * 
I was correctly identified as the Opera Tattler by the principal trumpet player of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra.

Banjo + Opera = Hilarity

If one had a burning desire to hear San Francisco Opera's General Director David Gockley sing, one might head over to the Porch Stage of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass concert tomorrow at 3:20pm. As an added bonus, all the hipsters will be over at the Rooster Stage hearing Iron & Wine, and thus can easily be avoided.

In other SF Opera news, this year's Interview with an Icon event is happening not just as Yom Kippur starts, as scheduled, but tomorrow at 6pm. Stage director John Copley is the icon this time. I'm terribly disappointed I cannot attend, as Copley is supposedly quite funny. It might have been nicer to know this was going to be switched to an entirely new date a bit earlier.

One will note that the Idomeneo dress rehearsal next Saturday has been moved up so that it conflicts with the Met's simulcast of Salomé. At least we were emailed about that one, and I received the scheduling change in the mail as well, a week before the postcard about Copley arrived.

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 8 | Interview with an Icon

SF Opera 2008-2009 Preview

Sfopera-diana-camera-ctiee1 San Francisco Opera's 2008-09 Season Preview CD set came in the mail recently, and today I noticed that their podcast has also been updated. This the third season of David Gockley's tenure, and likewise the third time San Francisco Opera has sent out such CDs, in lieu of the yearbook of previous years. The cover of the CD set features Angela Gheorghiu as Mimi in the latest Met production of Bohème, instead of the Anna Netrebko photo used on the season brochure. Incidently, the Netrebko picture is also from the Met, the Romeo et Juliette that opened last year's simulcasts.

In his typically chatty fashion, Gockley introduces the season, discusses who will be performing, and gives the basic plot of each opera. He makes the claim that there are no Eurotrash productions this season, which is really no fun at all. How else will I be able to laugh whilst the SF audience boos?

The most attention is given to the world premiere, Stewart Wallace's The Bonesetter's Daughter, and notably the section on this opera is nearly 19 minutes long compared to the 10 or so minutes given to most of the others. Amy Tan speaks about writing the libretto, and the prologue of the opera is played, albeit with a synthesized orchestra. The most distinctive feature of the music is the use of the suona, which is a rather loud and almost annoying double reed instrument, not unlike the Middle Eastern/Central Asian sorna or zurna.

The introductions are useful, especially for the newer operas, as the aforementioned work from Wallace, Die Tote Stadt, Three Decembers, and Porgy and Bess. I was taken aback when Gockley mentioned the "Mongolian eyes and complexion" of Russian bass Vladimir Matorin, who was flown in to replace Samuel Ramey in Grand-Théâtre de Genève's Boris Godunov. This detail seemed irrelevant, not to mention odd.

In any case, I feel prepared for the season opener, Simon Boccanegra, which will be performed next week. After waffling for weeks about attending the BRAVO! CLUB Opening Night Gala, I've decided that this organization makes me feel uncomfortable at best and I do not have the necessary fortitude. Instead I will be in my beloved standing room, furiously scribbling notes, as usual.

Podcast | Official Site

Sum Up of Summer Madness at SF Opera

Ruth-ann Yesterday's performance of Ariodante concluded the 2007-2008 season at San Francisco Opera. The Summer part of the season was mixed bag this year. Das Rheingold had some interesting ideas as far as production is concerned, but some of the execution was weak. Much of the cast was strong, but I found certain female principals disappointing. Ariodante had excellent singers, but although the production was not distracting, it was not breathtaking either. Lucia di Lammermoor had the incredible Natalie Dessay, some fairly poor and even inaudible singing as well, and a nice clean stage.

General Director David Gockley seemed less accessible, he did not have any question and answer sessions after any of the performances I attended this Summer. It also remained noisy in the house, lots of walkie talkies backstage, and still some high-pitched sounds coming from microphones. No fire alarms were pulled, so that was an improvement. The Lucia simulcast did well, about 23,000 people attended at AT&T Park. The SF Opera podcast has slipped, no new content was added this year, and the introductions for the Summer operas were not up-to-date.

The audience was fair to middling this year. There were a few more cellular phone rings than last Fall, and this would be mitigated by having that annoying announcement played after each intermission. It is unfortunate, but it is better to have the recording admonish us all beforehand than have to hear rings during the music. Also, plenty of watch alarms during the hour were heard, someone really should hold some sort of seminar on how to turn those things off.

The general level of absurdity was sadly quite low, though the unused horse heads for Ariodante and various ideas around featuring haggis in the two Scottish operas were amusing. The Opera Tattler attended a mere 14 of 20 performances, down from 16 of 21 last Summer, so perhaps this was part of the problem. However, given the 2008-2009 season, this trend shall continue.

Auditions for the General Director 2008

* Notes *
Merola Opera Program's Auditions for the General Director were yesterday evening, and this was a first opportunity to hear all the 2008 Merolini in a single go. Before the auditions began I found my opera mentors, the Ryans, and B. Ryan told us we should put ourselves in David Gockley's shoes and that we must have an eye (or ear, really) to casting Die Walküre. T. Ryan said she found the idea of putting herself in Gockley's shoes rather difficult. In any case the auditions were educational, it made me realize I really should study up on Massenet and Berlioz. There was a lot of fine singing, actually, everyone was clearly talented. The most hilarious performance was from Carlos Monzón, who acted out the Catalogue aria in a somewhat lewd manner as he sang. Tyler Nelson also impressed me with "Konstanze, Konstanze...O wie ängstlich."

At intermission I was, for fun of course, required to pick which singers I would like to hear again. I chose Joélle Harvey, Amanda Majeski, Nicole Birkland, James Benjamin Rodgers, and Benjamin LeClair. Joélle sang "Du gai soleil" from Werther and her bright voice has such effortlessness. Amanda's rendition of "Song of the Moon" from Rusalka was passionate without being too harsh. Nicole chose "The Empty Handed Traveler" from The Consul, which I'd never heard before. James sang Lensky's aria from Eugene Onegin with an appealing brightness and good volume. Benjamin had clear diction in "Tutto è disposto...Aprite un po'quegli occhi" and his warm round tones reminded me of John Relyea.

I believe Gockley called back my five picks, in addition to Ellen Wieser, Leah Crocetto, Renée Tatum, Nathaniel Peake, and David W. Pershall. David sang Papageno's "Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja" well, and I very much enjoyed Eileen Downey's accompaniment here. My favorite performance of the evening came from Joélle Harvey, who sang "Piangerò la sorte mia" from Giulio Cesare with Dennis Doubin playing the piano.

* Tattling *
We looked for David Gockley, as one must keep up, one year his predecessor did not appear at this event. He was in the orchestra section and he either thanked or complimented each person by name after they sang. The audience was extremely well behaved, they did not clap between pieces, just as they were asked. There were a few whispers, especially from Box C. The person in question was threatened but we were told we were too small to actually manage to throw him over the railing.

Oren Gradus and Zheng Cao were both spotted at intermission. I was introduced to the former, and I mentioned he must have made a big impression on me as Leporello last season, as I still thought of him during the Berlin performances of Don Giovanni that I recently attended. We also spoke about the Lucia di Lammermoor he is in at the moment, and it is clear that he has an immense respect for Natalie Dessay.

I may be wrong about some of the notes above, if you happen to have a correction for me, please speak up, I am grateful for any help.

Das Rheingold Opening at SF Opera

Sfopera-dasrheingold* Notes *
Francesca Zambello's American-inspired Das Rheingold opened last night at San Francisco Opera. The video projections, the work of Jan Hartley, varied from completely campy to tastefully elegant. The first projections did have me in stitches though, and not in a good way. They looked like the opening credits to the Star Wars franchise, one expected the yellow text to appear, explaining what would occur in the next 2.5 hours. I was also quite pained by the projected beams when the Giants enter in Scene 2, they looked flat and their colors did not match the color of the one real beam. However, the projections were excellent for when Alberich turns himself into a dragon, and also worked well for the sky in Scene 2 and 4. Michael Yeargan's sleek set was pleasing, though the set changes were rather loud. I especially liked how the rainbow bridge to Valhalla was portrayed and Nibelheim. Some of the costumes were awkward, Catherine Zuber put the Rhinemaidens in corsets, which looked great when they were still, but since they had quite a lot of choreography, they looked uncomfortable at times. The Giants also looked uneasy in their enormous boots, they seemed to always walk gingerly. They were fitted with oversized robot hands, which was also a bit strange. Other costumes were attractive enough, certainly the Gods looked nice in their Roaring Twenties clothing. The Nibelungen looked quite in keeping with Norse mythology, but best of all was the illusionism used in the Nibelheim, it was a fine spectacle.

The orchestra sounded a bit rough under Runnicles, which was surprising, but it was the first performance. Someone in the brass section was not having a good day and hit at least three wrong notes near the end of the opera. The singing started off well, the Rhinemaidens sounded both ethereal and teasing. They also looked gorgeous. All three, Lauren McNeese (Wellgunde), Buffy Baggott (Flosshilde), and Catherine Cangiano (Woglinde), had their San Francisco Opera debuts in this production. The other three female singers fared less well, Tamara Wapinsky was loud enough as Freia, but was quite wobbly. Her acting was fairly strong, and it was interesting how lovelorn they had her be after her return to the Gods. Jill Grove's high notes were harsh, some were rather suspect. Her Erda was not an unreal force of nature, though her lower range is nice and warm. Jennifer Larmore (Fricka) looked absolutely cunning in her smart cream and black outfit, but her voice started off rather thin and shaky. She was audible, but always sounded delicate, and it was easy to hear that she usually sings Rossini or Baroque music. However, the other principal singers were stronger, Richard Paul Fink was wonderful as Alberich, he was moving in Scene 4, especially when he curses the ring. Stefan Margita played a rather slimy Loge well, his voice is so beautiful, with good volume and a certain richness. Mark Delavan was promising in his role debut of Wotan, his voice does not have the heft of Fink's, but was lovely.

* Tattling *
San Francisco Opera has started scanning tickets instead of tearing them, just like the symphony.

David Gockley was in the orchestra standing room area for the beginning of the opera, and gave technicans directions about lowering something or other during the overture. This first performance was loud, stage directions were audible in between scenes, which was unfortunate given that the orchestra was playing.

The performance looked full, and standing room had quite a few people. A woman stood behind me for the second half of the opera, and apparently she had an imaginary friend. She spoke at full volume about "how cool" the Nibelheim was and "how cute" Alberich was as an amphibian. Then before Scene 4 she started furiously typing on her Blackberry and was given 3 pointed, angry looks before she scurried away.