David Gockley

Figaro Page to Stage

* Notes *
Les Waters moderated a discussion between Dominique Serrand, Bradley Greenwald, and David Gockley as part of Berkeley Repertory Theatre's Page to Stage program. Dominique Serrand is the artistic director of Jeune Lune, and also directs and stars in the production of Figaro currently at Berkeley Rep. Bradley Greenwald is Count Almaviva in Figaro, and adapted the music used for the production. David Gockley is the general director of San Francisco Opera. Waters started off by asking each of them questions, starting off with the "crossover" nature of Figaro, as it involves Mozart's opera, Beaumarchais' trilogy, and Serrand's scenography and video. How the music was adapted for string quartet and piano was mentioned, as was audience response, as the actors greet the audience after the performance. Many jokes were made about the appearance of opera singers versus the characters in this particular production. Questions from the audience were taken about when Beaumarchais wrote La Mère coupable, why Cherubino is played by a female, the strain of opera singers voices, and new media in opera.

* Tattling *
The crowd was fairly sparse, despite the large amounts of free coffee on offer. Serrand's mobile phone went off during David Gockley's first response, in which he mentioned Claus Guth's production of Le Nozze di Figaro. Gockley explained that this production at the Salzburger Festspiele features a silent Cupid who "sticks it to those horny people." The best quote of the evening, however came from Serrand, who said "I don't understand pyschological plays, with people on couches discussing their innards."

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SF Opera's Annual Meeting 2008

* Notes *
San Francisco Opera's Annual Meeting was held yesterday afternoon. Board of Directors President George H. Hume, General Director David Gockley, and CFO Michael Simpson all gave reports. Things seem to be going well, the endowment is up to $125 million from $45 million in 2002-2003, and though subscriptions are slightly down from the previous year, single ticket sales are up. There was a great emphasis on growing a new, younger audience through radio broadcasts, live simulcasts, and the new cinemacasts. A 10 minute clip of the cinemacast for La Rondine was shown. It featured, of course, "Che il bel sogno" from Act I, and the Act II quartet involving Magda, Ruggero, Lisette, and Prunier. Certainly many details are revealed in this medium, and the cameras did not seem to move as wildly as in the Met simulcasts.

Best of all was the short performance of mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack, tenor Andrew Bidlack, and pianist Lara Bolton. Mack sang "Tu Preparati a Morire" from Ariodante beautifully, although with a bit too much vibrato, but at least not the annoying sort. Bidlack sang "De'miei Bolenti Spiriti" from Act II of La Traviata with his usual aplomb. They finished off with a very pretty rendition of the duet "C'est le Ciel qui M'envoie" from La Belle Hélène.

* Tattling *
A cellular phone rang just before the film clip was shown, the ring tone was "Für Elise." A watch alarm signaled the hour during Prunier's part of "Che il bel sogno."

David Gockley did not like the dancing in Tannhäuser. During the Q&A, two people asked about not getting responses for their missives. We also learned that casting for Porgy and Bess is coming along. Karen Slack is to sing Serena, Laquita Mitchell is Clara, and Gregg Baker is Crown.


Lucas Meachem's Schwabacher Debut Recital

Lucasmeachem_2* Notes *
The Schwabacher Debut Recital Series continued yesterday with baritone Lucas Meachem singing selections from Dvořák's Zigeunermelodien, Poulenc's Chansons Gaillardes, Schumann's Zwölf Lieder, and Copland's Old American Songs. Meachem certainly is amiable, talking to the audience before each set of songs. His singing is vigorous enough to fill a small hall like the Martin Meyer quite well. The recital showed Meachem's dramatic range, he sang each composer's music distinctly, and did not sound like an opera singer when he sang a piece from Disney's Beauty and the Beast as an encore. For the most part his diction was good, though there were a few small missteps. His voice is strong, but perhaps lacks beauty, except in his rendition of Copland's "Long Time Ago," which was lovely.

* Tattling *
This time the Schwabacher Recital was competing against the Academy Awards, and the turn out was still good, even General Director David Gockley deigned to attend. Somehow I was recruited to usher in the balcony, where I sat a total of three people, but the main floor looked full. The audience in the balcony certainly was well-behaved. There is definitely something humming in that hall, it is either the lights or the climate control system.

Lucas Meachem was rather more formally dressed than Philippe Castagner was for the last recital. Meachem wore a black suit with vest and tie, but alarmingly, seemed to keep shedding layers as the evening wore on. Meachem is also an amusing raconteur, the best story was an account of how he met Susan Graham. Paul Groves introduced Meachem to Graham in Paris, and they went out to karaoke. Later when Simon Keenleyside withdrew from Lyric's production of Iphigénie en Tauride, Graham convinced William Mason to hire Meachem, saying she had heard him sing "American contemporary."


End of 2007 Tattling

SfoperafirealarmSomeone one pulled a fire alarm just a few minutes before yesterday's performance of The Rake's Progress was to begin, so we all had to file out and everything started half an hour late. This hasn't happened in awhile, but I remember a rash of fire alarm pulling in 2005. Later, everyone laughed at the recorded message reminding us to locate the nearest exit in case of an emergency. The cast still sounded very good, despite the delay.

Today standing room was quite full for Racette's last performance of Madama Butterfly this season. Before the performance, David Gockley came on stage, and reassured us everyone would still be singing. He lead us in applause, recorded for a possible DVD or some such thing. He used the word vociferous more than once. I don't think I can convey how absurd this was. The performance itself was strong, and I was able to appreciate Racette and Jovanovich more, having seen the second cast.

There were signs that informed the audience the would be recorded, the language used was really quite amusing, and thankfully I got a photograph of it. I especially like the sentence "By attending this event, you are consenting and hereby grant permission to San Francisco Opera or its designees, and its employees, successors, and assignees, licensees and agents to utilize your appearance, image, voice, and likeness, in perpetuity, in any and all manner and form and format of media throughout the world, now known or hereafter devised, including but not limited to recordings, broadcasts, or webcasts of the event you are attending."

Sfoperarelease


Thoughts On A Season of Glamour

Dressbarn_2Of late, every time I pass Dress Barn I think of San Francisco Opera's most recent promotional materials for subscriptions. "A Season of Glamour," indeed. This is the worst time of the year for me, because by next week, San Francisco Opera will have finished the Fall part of the season, and it will be all Nutcracker all the time at the War Memorial Opera House. Thirty performances in eighteen days! At least when the Summer part of the season is over, I only have to wait a month. Soon I will have no excuse to dress like I've been attacked by a blind post-modern square dancer. In the meantime, I suspect I will go see Otello, Der Zwerg, and Der zerbrochene Krug in Los Angeles, and I Puritani in Seattle. If I become desperate, I will also go hear the Puccini offerings at Los Angeles Opera, but I doubt it will come to that.

San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley's first season hasn't been too shabby so far. Of the eight productions, I thought I would like Die Zauberflöte most, but I was most moved by Tannhäuser. Though there were some stupid things about the latter's staging, on the whole I found it held up, unlike Macbeth. Macbeth certainly was the most entertaining offering all season, and Thomas Hampson's singing was my favorite this Fall. William Burden in The Rake's Progress was a close second for me. Usually I'm quite crazy for the ladies, so I'm a bit taken aback by this. Needless to say, I can hardly contain my excitement about Ariodante in the Summer. Ruth Ann Swenson, Susan Graham, and Ewa Podleś in Händel sounds almost overwhelming.

Appomattox did not annoy me as much I thought it would, in fact, I have to admit I liked it. (Though I could have been spared the message, as if I needed Philip Glass to tell me that racism still exists in the United States.) Madama Butterfly also was a surprise, everything just came together. I was underwhelmed by Samson et Dalila and La Rondine, in spite of Borodina and Gheorghiu, both of whom have amazed me in other performances.

Unlike many others, I did not dislike David Gockley's predecessor, Pamela Rosenberg. Even still, Gockley has made some good improvements. We have been getting many good singers lately. I also like the earlier start times and fewer intermissions. Technology certainly has been embraced in OperaVision, podcasts, and simulcasts. Some of this has been great, but I have noticed the house has become much noisier. I've heard stage managers in Macbeth and The Rake's Progress, headphone noise, and the like. At least Gockley seems receptive to criticism, he does call himself "Mr. Customer Service" and "Mr. Hospitality" in his introduction to the 2007-2008 Season, and he periodically holds question and answer sessions after performances.


Closing of La Rondine

Rondine Act I, Photo by Terrence McCarthy* Notes *
The last performance of La Rondine was sold-out, but as it is part of my subscription, I attended in my regular spot in Box X. The set looks quite nice up close as well as from afar, though I noticed that the mirror ball in Act II was audible. I suspect it created white noise that dampened the sound of the singers, perhaps that is why I had more difficulty hearing Angela Gheorghiu in Act II. After hearing the music thrice, I still unmoved, though the orchestra and singers were mostly fine.

Gheorghiu looked ravishing from my vantage point. I again noticed her breathing, and that her voice has a certain pretty fragility to it. Misha Didyk continued to sound rough as Ruggero. Anna Christy still sounded bird-like. Gerard Powers sang those high notes in Act III better, strained, but on key.

* Tattling *
Standing room looked terribly full. There was quite a chorus of watch alarms, more than half a dozen at 8pm, perhaps a few less at 9pm and 10pm. Box X had three couples in it, they had come to the opera together. I noticed a person in Box Y was standing for the performance, and that the people behind me retreated behind the curtain of Box X. When I returned after the intermission, one of the people was insisting that he and his friends be moved. He asked where David Gockley was and was very unhappy about the person in Box Y. Flatulence was mentioned. The usher spoke to the offending person, and he did sit for the second half of the opera.


4th Performance of La Rondine

Misha Didyk and Angela Gheorghiu, Photo by Terrence McCarthy* Notes *
I gave La Rondine a second chance, and listened to it in the balcony standing room area last night. The sets and costumes were beautiful from afar as well, and the disco ball in Act II was not visible, so not blinding. Even still, I could see why this opera has only been performed once, before this production, at San Francisco Opera. The plot is thin, no one dies or gets married, and the music, though pretty, is rather light.

Angela Gheorghiu did sound better from the balcony, though she had moments of being overwhelmed by the orchestra in Act II. At times I could not hear which language she was singing in, though I could discern the notes, the words were lost. Perhaps I mistook her delicacy for tentativeness, Gheorghiu certainly has control of her tone, in stark contrast with our other current leading lady and fellow Non-Slavic Eastern European, Georgina Lukács. I still was bothered by Gheorghiu's occasional gasps and her ungainly movements. She is, of course, stunningly beautiful, so even her awkward carriage has a certain charm.

The rest of the cast was consistent with the previous performance I attended. Gerard Powers still missed that one high note in his duet with Anna Christy (Lisette) in Act III, just before the butler enters. Otherwise, his acting and singing were both strong.

* Tattling *
The performance was not full, and I was a little surprised given that the reviews were good and Gheorghiu should be a big draw. I did notice more Romanians than usual. I managed to get a good standing room spot in the balcony behind L 111, which was unoccupied for the whole performance. People were well-behaved, there was hardly any talking, only two watch alarms went off at 10pm, and no mobiles rang. The sets for Acts I and III received applause, as they did for opening night.

David Gockley spoke and answered questions after the performance. We were promised that there would be no microphones used to amplify singers' voices, that SFO would go into movie theaters, and that we should be able to chose our seats online soon. Apparently subscriptions are down, and they are trying to make subscribing more desirable by discounting the tickets by 20% next season. The uncomfortableness of the seats in the War Memorial Opera House was brought up yet again, apparently it is important to the SFWMPAC Board of Trustees that the seats retain their 1930s look and feel. They must always sit in the boxes.


Interview with an Icon: Philip Glass

Philipglass* Notes *
The word icon is from Greek εἰκών meaning "image."

Last night, Philip Glass was interviewed by David Gockley at the Interview with an Icon donor event. The first half of the interview was devoted to Glass' life, working at his father's record store as a child; going to Peabody, University of Chicago, and Julliard; studying with Nadia Boulanger and Ravi Shankar; his operas Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten; and his work in film. The second half had to do with Appomattox, which opens this Friday in a world premiere. Among the details discussed were the librettist Christopher Hampton and the conductor Dennis Russell Davies, both of whom are having their San Francisco Opera debuts with Appomattox. This latest opera has two baritones as leads, Dwayne Croft as Robert E. Lee and Andrew Shore as Ulysses S. Grant. Apparently the costumes are period, the sets minimalistic, and the opera covers not only the Civil War, but comes up to the present day.

* Tattling *
The venue was moved from the opera house to Herbst Theatre, and they did not open the doors until ten minutes before the event. Philip Glass mumbled a great deal, and mistakenly said "Los Angeles" for "San Francisco" at one point, and David Gockley kicked him. Gockley had a cold and also took one of his shoes off during the interview. The audience, however, was very well-behaved.

This interview will probably be made into a podcast.


Adler Fellows Gala Concert

Adlers* Notes *
The Adler recital last night started off with the overture from
Bernstein's Candide. This was followed by a most terrible butchering of Händel's Alcina Act III, Scenes 2 through 7. Soprano Elza van den Heever was a shrill, nasal, and gasping Alcina. Mezzo-soprano Kendall Gladen was cold and too quiet as Bradamante, but she sounded much better latter in the evening, when she sang "Va! laisse couler mes larmes!" from Massenet's Werther. Counter-tenor Gerald Thompson did not have control of his voice as Ruggiero. The rest of the evening went better, soprano Kimwana Doner sang "Tacea la Notte Placida" pretty well, though her voice is thin in her higher range.

Baritone Eugene Brancoveanu is certainly the star of the Adler Fellows, he sang "Mira di acerbe lagrime" with Doner and a scene each from Billy Budd and Eugene Onegin. His tone is full and warm, not too much vibrato, and never harsh. of the others, soprano Melody Moore and tenor Sean Panikkar were fine as Mimi and Rodolfo. Moore's voice has an effortlessness that is lacking in many of the others. Panikkar strained his higher notes when accompanied by the full orchestra, but his voice is lovely. Bass Jeremy Galyon and tenor Matthew O'Neill show promise, and they were hilarious when they broke out into random Italian, shuffling chairs as Sean Panikkar took the stage. Soprano Rhoslyn Jones annoyed me as Frasquita in the current production of Carmen, as her voice is incredibly loud and wavering. However, she wasn't terrible in the Eugene Onegin excerpt, when she sings piano her voice is pretty, but the forte bits can be frightening.

* Tattling *
People were seated during the Alcina excerpt, and the pair that stepped over me to get to Z 117 and 119 apologized as the music continued. Soon after this a woman in Z 115 decided she couldn't wait for Alcina to be over either and made us all stand so she could get out. There was a great deal of chatter the whole time, plus wonderful amounts of screaming, especially from standing room. David Gockley spoke after the intermission, and he forgot 2 of the 3 names of the departing Adlers. Thankfully, members of the audience were able to yell "Gerald" and "Eugene" for him.


SF Opera Podcast

OperahouseThis season, instead of sending subscribers a yearbook going over all of the operas showing at San Francisco Opera, they sent out a double CD with David Gockley talking about each opera and playing clips. Seattle Opera has been doing this for a few years as well, and this format is useful as one can get a feel for the actual music. Mr. Gockley certainly is entertaining, his tone is unpretentious. The music used is from the San Francisco Opera archive, so there was no clip of Iphigénie en Tauride, as it has never been given here.

The preview of the 2006-2007 season has been made into a podcast, along with a September 15, 2006 interview with Deborah Voigt. I must say their suggestions for when to listen are hilarious: Listen while you drive to work, do the laundry, or work out at the gym.


$50 Orchestra Seats

Sfopera General Director Gockley announced a plan to cut the price of orchestra seats for Bravo Club members. The tickets are normally $87-$155, unless one gets student or senior rush tickets, which are $25 or $30, respectively. The student rush tickets have gone up in price, they were a mere $15 last season. Given that the Bravo Club is meant for young professionals, the members generally do not qualify for the rush tickets. Also, one has to work for those tickets, they are not always available, and people start lining up for them as much as three hours before the box office opens.

Personally, I am not fond of the orchestra seats, though they are more spacious than seats on the dress circle and balcony levels, the incline is not as steep and sometimes it is difficult to see over people's hairdos. Additionally, the sound quality is not as good as on the upper levels. However, people tend to be better behaved the closer they are to the stage. So there are many considerations, dear reader!

SF Business Times Article


Sii maledetto!

Rigolettoscene13* Notes *
A revival of Rigeletto opened September 30th at San Francisco Opera. Mark Lamos' production from 1997 inaugurated the last General Director's tenure back in 2001. There were a few changes from the last time around, the dancers with exposed bosoms in the first scene were gone, and the lighting was less lurid. At least a prelapsarian Eve appeared, fully nude, holding an unbitten apple. Michael Yeargan's sets are simple but Constance Hoffman's costumes are elaborate. The last act seems to be by a canal rather than a river, but the water and reflections work nicely.

Paolo Gavanelli returned to sing the title role, which he last sang here in 1997. In her preview lecture, Alexandra Amati-Camperi mentioned that Verdi himself wanted the best baritone to sing Count Monterone, not Rigoletto, but this was not the case here. Bass-baritone Greer Grimsley sounded subdued and thin next to Gavanelli. Likewise, tenor Giuseppe Gipali did not sing the Duke's part with any verve. His voice, at least what could be heard of it, seemed pretty enough. Mary Dunleavy made a lovely Gilda, her tone is clear and bright, too bad she hit one note flat in her only aria. Perhaps she'll hit it tonight.

* Tattling *
They had a simulcast of the October 6th performance in front of city hall and at Stanford University, so General Director David Gockley addressed the audience. There were quite a lot of video cameras involved.

Nancy Pelosi was spotted in the orchestra section.

I noticed that the supertitle screens are being used to announce opera talks, opera donations, Gockley's contact information, and the electronic mailing list during intermission. How tiresome!

Also, a particular individual called her father during "La donna è mobile," so that he too could hear it. Too bad the tenor was not good.


SF Opera's 2006-2007 Season

Looking at the upcoming season for 2006-2007 for San Francisco Opera, I felt a bit boggled. Even the new site design was somewhat alarming, simply because the aesthetic is about a 180 degree turn, from pop to traditional. Then I remembered that Pamela Rosenberg has left for the Berlin Philharmonic and David Gockley, most recently of the Houston Grand Opera, is the new general director.

The season is as follows:
Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera
J. Strauss, Jr.'s Die Fledermaus
Verdi's Rigeletto
Wagner's Tristan und Isolde
Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia
Puccini's Manon Lescaut
Bizet's Carmen
Mozart's Don Giovanni
R. Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier
Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride

First of all, there are ten operas, more than we've had in recent memory. Second, there are no contemporary operas included. How strange, indeed. At least the productions of Tristan und Isolde and Don Giovanni look particularly unpromising, the former is directed by Herbert Kellner, who used Noh puppeteers in the Chicago Lyric Ring, and the latter apparently has an oversized skeleton in the last scene.

As for interesting singers, Deborah Voigt is singing Amelia in Un Ballo, Karita Mattila is Manon Lescaut, and Bo Skovhus is Oreste in Iphigénie.