Online since August 2002

If it's January, it's opera time

Published January 2008

By Carol Davis


San Diego Opera 2008 season

By Richard Wagner
Directed by Michael Hampe
Conducted by Gabor Ötovös

Jan. 26-Feb. 3 2008

Mary, Queen of Scotts
By Gaetano Donizetti
Directed by Andrew Sinclair
Conducted by Edoardo Müller

Feb. 16-24 2008

Cavalleria Rusticana / Pagliacci
By Pietro Miscagni / Ruggero Leoncavallo
Directed by Lotfi Mansouri
Conducted by Edoardo Müller

March 22-April 2 2008

By Giuseppe Verdi
Directed by Garnett Bruce
Conducted by Valéry Ryvkin

April 12-23 2008

The Pearl Fishers
By Georges Bizet
Directed by Andrew Sinclair
Conducted by Karen Keltner

San Diego Opera
San Diego Civic Theatre
Third Avenue at B Street
San Diego

The San Diego Opera is just about ready to launch it's forty-third International Season, according to Edward Wilensky, public relations director, and of course, Ian Campbell, artistic and general director for the last twenty-four years. Old, new, tried and true are on this year's agenda, which looks to yours truly to be a very exciting and lively opera season.

Kicking off the season is Wagner's "Tannhäuser," which is described as "A Grand Romantic Opera" and hasn't been seen in San Diego for well over 30 years. If my math is correct, that means it was shown within the early years of the opera's existence and not since. Based on two Germanic legends, the story is one of the struggle between the sacred and the profane, love and redemption, self-sacrifice and atonement. Wagner brings these together by constructing a plot involving the 14th century Minnesingers and the myth of Venus and her realm of Venusburg.

New sets, which come directly from the Metropolitan Opera in New York (Gunther Schneider-Siemassen), will visually re-create that company's production here in San Diego. The opera is packed with stunning images, from dancing nymphs to a magnificent chorus to the sophisticated use of projections and complex artwork. So it looks like we are in for a treat.

In the signature role of Heldentenor is Robert Gambill as Tannhäuser. Making his San Diego debut, he first sang the role of Tannhäuser in Berlin in 1999 and it has become his signature role. Camilla Nylund, the Finnish soprano, is making her San Diego debut, as well, as Elisabeth, Tannhäuser's primary defender and true love. German mezzo-soprano Petra Lang is also making her San Diego debut. She will be singing the role of Venus, goddess of love. Canadian baritone, Russell Braun, who mad his San Diego debut in 2004 in "The Pearl Fishers", is Wolfram von Eschenbach, the minstrel knight and friend of Tannhäuser. In another San Diego debut, Gabor Ötovös, the Hungarian-born German conductor who made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1972, will be conducting this very grand opera for us.

"Tannhäuser" opens Januyar 26, plays for six performances and will be sung in German with English translations above the stage.

Following on the heels of "Tannhäuser" is Gaetano Donizetti's "Mary, Queen Of Scotts" ("Maria Stuarda"). Based on the tragic story of the lives of Mary, Queen of Scotts (South African soprano Angela Gilbert) and her cousin Queen Elizabeth (American mezzo-soprano Kate Aldrich), it is making its San Diego premiere. Another cliffhanger, politics and religion are at the heart of these dynamic duos in their struggle for might and power. Caught in the middle is the Earl of Leicester (Armenian tenor Yeghishe Manucharyan making his San Diego debut), who loves Mary, but is desired by Elizabeth. His credits include Nadir in "The Pearl Fishers" and Count Almaviva in "The Barber of Saville" in the Armenian National Opera. Reinhard Hagen, German bass, who made his San Diego debut in 2000 as Heinrich in Wagner's "Lohengrin," plays Talbot, a member of Mary's court who seeks her clemency. My favorite, Edoardo Müller, will conduct.

Donizetti, whose works also include "Lucia di Lammermour", one of the more popular operas of the century and "Anna Bolena," which actually put him on the map, is also is responsible for "Don Pasquelle" and "L'elisir d'amore", another staple in his repertoire. Unfortunately, his private life was more tragic than those of the character's for whom he wrote. He died at the early age of 51. "Mary Queen Of Scotts", sung in Italian with English subtitles, will play from February 16-24.

Beginning on March 22, two one-act operas – "Cavalleria Rusticana" by Pietro Miscagni and "Pagliacci" by Ruggero Leoncavallo – will mounted. Both focus on love and betrayal, infidelity and revenge. How such beautiful music can come from such beginnings is always a wonder. But both of these two operas (almost always done together) will jointly bring tenors José Cura and Richard Leech. Leech stars as Turriddu in "Cavallera." He is the young soldier who returns to his hometown and seduces the peasant girl, Santuzza, and then leaves her pregnant in search of an old flame, Lola (Sarah Castle). In "Pagliacci" (think "Vesti la giubba"), Cura stars as the immortal, tragic clown, Canio. Both tenors have sung on the stages of the Met, Covent Garden, Vienna and Paris. American soprano Carter Scott is Santuzza; the peasant girl who has been wronged by Turiddu, and American soprano Elizabeth Futral is Nedda, Canio's wife who is having an affair with a villager. With tables turned, these two operas are mirror images of each other.

Both are set in Sicilian villages and both reflect the colorful world of traditional Italian peasants. Müller conducts this one as well and Lotfi Mansouri will direct.

2001 was the last time Verdi's "Aida" was performed in San Diego. For me, that's too long! Now we have a chance to see this magnificent opera once again because on April 12 it will be returning to the Civic Theatre, starring American Soprano Indera Thomas as Aida, an Ethiopian slave girl whose love for an Egyptian officer brings death to both. Along with Thomas, Romanian mezzo-soprano Mariana Pentcheva is appearing in the role of Amneris, Aida's adversary and ultimately her executioner. American baritone Mark Rucker, who made his San Diego debut in 1996 in "Aida," is returning in the same role as Amonasaro, King of Ethiopia and Aida's father. Uruguayan tenor Carlo Ventre is Radames, Amneris' father.

"Aida" is the personification of the phrase "Grand Opera." It encompasses every aspect of theater. It will be sung in Italian with English translations above the stage. Sets and costumes are from the San Diego Opera Company, and Valéry Ryvkin will conduct.

Finally, rounding out the season is Georges Bizet's "The Pearl Fishers" beginning on May 3. The story takes place in ancient Ceylon where the virgin priestess whose prayers are intended to protect the pearl fishers' fleet is tempted by a passion that ruins the friendship of the two men who love her and nearly destroys her fleet.

San Diego's Zandra Rhoades originally designed the production when it was first shown in San Diego in 2004 and ultimately went on to New York and San Francisco. Make no mistake; visually this production is simply breathtaking. The colors, tones and backdrops weave a beautiful tapestry for this lovely opera. The San Diego Opera will be reviving the production, which will star Russian soprano Ekaterina Siurina as Leïla, American tenor Charles Castronovo will be Nadir and American baritone Malcolm MacKenzie is Zurga.

San Diego's resident conductor Karen Keltner, who has been with the company since 1982, will be at the helm. Keltner has previously conducted "Sampson and Delilah" and the critically acclaimed "Wozzeck" in 2007. She also conducted "The Pearl Fishers" in '04. This year, she is also guest conductor at Opera Theatre of Weston where she will be conducting Johann Strauss' comic opera "Die Fledermaus."

"The Pearl Fishers" will be sung in French with English translations above the stage.

Way back when the radio was the only form of live communication from the outside world, I used to listen to the Met broadcast live on the radio. That was in the late forties to early fifties. Every Saturday afternoon, we listened. Rudolph Bing was general manager. Ask me how I knew this? My dad, with less than a high school diploma, was my first mentor. He could tell you everything and anything you wanted to know about the opera. He could sing any aria from any opera along with the best of them. And every Saturday afternoon, we settled in to listen. He told me the story and my job was to enjoy the music as much as he did. In fact, in later years I took him with me to the San Diego Opera productions. I had to caution him not to sing along. He never thought he was. He was just that in-tuned to the music, but those around us knew different. Years later, I wished he could have come with me to see my first "Live at the Met" production at Lincoln Center.

Today's audiences are only a movie theatre away from being able to see "Live From The Met" productions from many cities across the country. One need not have to actually be in New York to enjoy these productions. For more information on the performances to be shown at your local theaters (the only ones I found in San Diego were at Horton Plaza), check out their web site.

For more information on times and shows for San Diego Opera season go to: http://sdopera.com/education/television.aspx Wishing you happy theatre days for the rest of the year, I'll see you at the theatre.

See you at the theater.

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