Thursday, Aug. 17, 2006 | San Diego Opera announced its blockbuster season for 2007. The lineup promises something for everybody.
There will be two operas never performed in San Diego; two epic historical
dramas done up in grand opera style; two diverse tragedies with grisly murders; one situation comedy for relief. The repertory ranges from 18th century classical Mozart to 20th century avant-garde Berg wrapped around romantic Verdi, Mussorgsky, and Saint-Saäns.
Russian Czar Gone Mad
In order of appearance, beginning Jan. 27, 2007, the opening night features “Boris Godunov,” a true-to-life saga of ambition, power and palace plots raging around a 17th century czar. The powerful music score reflects colorful folk music by one of Russia’s most innovative composers, Modest Mussorgsky.
His rousing choral ensembles and casting of three bassos in leading roles make this opera a classic showcase for the pageantry of Imperial Russia complete with plush costumes and vast stage sets. SDO uses the original score for the first time, having performed the revised version by Mussorgsky’s good friend Rimsky-Korsakov in 1972 and 1989.
It takes a great bass personality to portray the tormented Boris. SDO has one. Italian Ferruccio Furlanetto returns to recreate the complex role of a ruler losing his mind. He is only the second foreigner to sing Boris in the opera’s homeland and his first time in America.
Big Thing for “Boris Godunov” – SDO production is in the original, untampered score composed by Mussorgsky with its stark and often harsh harmonies that Rimsky-Korsakov smoothed over in several later revisions. This score reveals the powerful Slavic impact on Russian folk music.
Politics as Usual in Gaza
The Hebrews are fighting the Philistines in 1150 B.C. A seductress tempts a noble Jewish leader into a torrid affair to discover the secret of his incredible strength. Samson gets a haircut (the source of his power) and is hauled off as an emasculated slave while Delilah rejoices over her conquest for the Philistines (now Palestinians). French composer Camille Saint-Saäns does it all with stunning and titillating music with Eastern overtones.
The second opera to be presented in February, “Samson and Delilah,” is a biblical epic drama in the style of French grand opera made popular by Meyerbeer and Berlioz in the 19th century. Bible stories are ever popular in the opera repertory. “Salome” by Strauss, “Nabucco” by Verdi and “Moses and Aaron” by Schönberg are the best-known spectacles of the scriptures.
“Samson and Delilah” has it all – pagan rites, exotic Eastern scenes and noble intent to preserve an ancient race. It all ends as a win for the Hebrews when Samson regains his mighty power and pulls down the temple to crush the heathens, including his traitor lover, Delilah.
Big Thing for “Samson and Delilah” – The title role is sung by a super star mezzo soprano, Denyce Graves, who performed this stunning role of a seductress at the Metropolitan Opera and other major opera houses. Her golden voice and enticing arias bring ruin to the hapless Samson, sung by Clifton Forbis, who has some lofty tenor arias to rouse the Israelites into rebellion. Not much has changed in Gaza in three millenniums.
Verdi in Full Bloom of Dazzling Singing
The popular composer Giuseppe Verdi was a master of his trade producing 26 operas between 1839 and 1893 that are mostly performed today. Next season’s third offering in March is the legendary “Il trovatore,” which coupled with “Rigoletto” and “La Traviata” form his early period of familiar arias and superb singing. The story is something else.
The plot is full of vengeance for past wrongs driven by an eccentric gypsy who threw her own baby on a fire by mistake. Her efforts to avenge the murder of her mother for witchcraft only trigger the deaths of a surrogate son, his lover and herself.
In fact, “Il trovatore” is one of those typical operas where all the stars die except the evil Count di Luna who is responsible for all those deaths and is still standing at curtain calls.
Big Thing for “Il trovatore” – Maestro Edoardo Muller, a master interpreter of Verdi’s music, will conduct his 36th SDO production, a new record formerly held by SDO General Director Walter Herbert for 40 years.
Powerful Psychodrama Premiere
Alban Berg was a pioneer in composing opera in a modern harmonic style shaped by his mentor, Arnold Schöenberg. Filling the transition from Romantic Era composers Wagner and Mahler, Berg wrote only two operas. The second one, “Lulu,” was not finished at his death in 1935. His 1927 tour de force, “Wozzeck,” a San Diego premiere in April for the fourth production of the season, is a shocking Gothic tale.
Wozzeck is a poor, powerless soldier oppressed by his superiors and betrayed by his common-law wife, Marie. The 90-minute, one-act music drama sung in English is tense and absorbing. Wozzeck’s grim world of persecution and domestic violence ends with the grisly murder of Marie and his suicide by drowning. Not a happy ending for anyone.
Again, the stars are dead leaving behind their little boy and the evil captain of the guards. Here is an opera that is drenched in pathos and tension to satisfy the most avid horror-story aficionado.
Big Thing for “Wozzeck” – This San Diego Opera premiere will be directed by two-time Tony Award winner (and recent nominee for “Jersey Boys”) Des McAnuff, Artistic Director of the La Jolla Playhouse. The unique revolving stage, costumes and lighting are also by Tony award designers. Making his debut as an opera director, McAnuff believes the tragedy of “Wozzeck” can shed much light on our own troubled times.
Figaro Leads a Madcap Caper
Think of “Marriage of Figaro” as an 18th century sit-com. The mix-and-match relationships with some language updates equate to today’s typical television drama.
Figaro, the barber from Seville, plays tricks on his master, the Count, while the Countess fends off a lusty pageboy. The housemaid is the target for romance by both Figaro and his philandering master. It all ends on a happy note as Figaro gets the girl.
French author Beaumarchais barely kept out of prison after writing the Figaro Trilogy. He dared to portray pre-Revolution servants outwitting an aristocrat, especially in amorous affairs. Mozart found this text suitable for his own rebellious conflicts with his aristocratic patrons. His music for “Marriage of Figaro,” the last entry in the 2007 season for May, has the most enduring ensemble vocals in the opera repertory.
Big Thing for “Marriage of Figaro” – This was a stage show that would have been banned in Boston because of its risqué theme. In fact, the original play on which the opera is based was banned by the French king because Beaumarchais was presenting a subversive theme as an entertainment in 1784. Mozart was lucky two years later to premiere his opera version in Vienna without royal resistance.
Season ticket subscriptions for the San Diego Opera 2007 season are available online at www.sdopera.com or by telephone at 619-533-7000.
Ford is a past president of San Diego Opera and maintains the opera archive at the San Diego Historical Society.