This is the month in which San Francisco Opera (SFO) will “officially” celebrate the bicentennial significance of 2013. This year has already seen the 200th birthday of Richard Wagner this past May 22; and, depending on which source you believe, Giuseppe Verdi’s 200th birthday will be celebrated on October 9 or 10. These occasions were recognized this past summer when SFO gave its annual performance at the Stern Grove Festival. Now it is time for both composers to be recognized during the season proper. This will be realized through the debut performances of two new opera productions, one for each of the two “birthday boys,” along with a special one-time-only concert performance.
The festivities will begin on October 8 with the first SFO performance of a production of Verdi’s Falstaff originally presented by the Lyric Opera of Chicago. This will be followed on October 22 by the first performance of a new production, shared with the Belgian Opéra Royal de Wallonie, of Wagner’s Die Fliegende Holländer (the flying Dutchman). The end of that week, on October 25, will see a major performance of Verdi’s setting of the Requiem text combining resources from the San Francisco Opera with those of the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples. All performances will take place in the War Memorial Opera House on Van Ness Avenue at the northwest corner of Grove Street, directly across from City Hall.
With its libretto by Arrigo Boito, Falstaff should provide the perfect “compare-and-contrast” follow-up to the only surviving complete opera with Boito’s music, Mefistofele, which will receive its final SFO performance of the season tomorrow evening. The libretto for Falstaff is the second one that Boito wrote for Verdi, the first being for his earlier opera, Otello. In addition, Falstaff was Verdi’s final opera.
One could make a case that, in his first collaboration with Verdi, Boito made it a point to work directly from William Shakespeare’s text, departing from that text only to suit Verdi’s operatic perspective on the narrative. (The libretto of the original RCA Victor recording that Arturo Toscanini made with the NBC Symphony Orchestra was designed by Henry W. Simon to be presented in three columns: one for Boito’s Italian text, one for the English translation, and one for a column labeled “Shakespearean Source.” When I finally gave up my vinyl box of this recording, having purchased the CD version, I kept the booklet. To my great regret, my personal copy is the only one I have ever seen.)
Falstaff, on the other hand, has a more convoluted history. The basic plot is taken from Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor; but Falstaff’s character is given further flesh (so to speak) by drawing upon the appropriate history plays, particularly The First Part of Henry the Fourth (although we never encounter either the King or Prince Hal in Verdi’s cast). In this case Boito appears to have worked from Victor Hugo’s translation of Shakespeare into French. Regardless of the literary pedigree, however, this opera is particularly memorable for Verdi’s musical efforts, the pinnacle of which is the elaborate counterpoint at the conclusion, “Tutto nel monde è burla” (everything in the world is a jest), which suggests that Verdi may have been showing his appreciation for the counterpoint that Wagner had composed for Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in 1868. (Falstaff had its first performance in 1893.)
The staging for the SFO production of Falstaff was conceived by Olivier Tambosi. It will be conducted by Music Director Nicola Luisotti and will include the SFO Chorus prepared by Ian Robertson. Bryn Terfel will return to the War Memorial Opera House to sing the title role; and the “merry wives” will be sung by Ainhoa Arleta (Mistress Alice Ford), Adler Fellow Renée Rapier (Mistress Meg Page), and Meredith Arwady (the “revered” Mistress Quickly).
The full run of Falstaff will consist of eight performances. These will take place on October 8 at 8 p.m., October 11 at 8 p.m., October 15 at 7:30 p.m., October 20 at 2 p.m., October 24 at 7:30 p.m., October 27 at 2 p.m., October 30 at 7:30 p.m., and November 2 at 8 p.m. Tickets are priced from $23 to $385 and may be purchased through the event page for this production. They may also be purchased at the SFO Box Office (in the lobby of the War Memorial Opera House) or by calling 415-864-3330. The Box Office is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. It is open for telephone orders only on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. In addition Standing Room tickets are available at the Box Office for $10, cash only, going on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance.
In addition the October 11 performance will be given a live HD simulcast. In partnership with Stanford Live, this video will be transmitted to the outdoor Frost Amphitheater on the Stanford University Campus, where it will projected on a large video screen, coupled with high-fidelity sound. KDFC announcer Hoyt Smith will serve as the onsite host for this event.
If Falstaff was Verdi’s “last word” in the opera repertoire, The Flying Dutchman is generally recognized as the first opera in the “established” Wagner canon. (It had some fascinating predecessors, however, including Wagner’s only encounter with Shakespeare, since Das Liebesverbot was based on Measure for Measure.) Most importantly, it was the first opera in which Wagner deployed his leitmotiv technique, the semiotic device through which motivic elements in the score would provide iconic representation of key elements of the narrative. That technique is immediately evident in the overture, which almost abstracts the entire plot of the opera.
The staging for this new production of The Flying Dutchman will be by Petrika Ionesco, who also is designing the sets. (Ionesco was last in San Francisco to stage Franco Alfano’s Cyrano de Bergerac in 2010.) While Wagner originally intended this opera to be performed without any breaks, this production will have a single intermission. It will be conducted by Patrick Summers and also include the SFO Chorus prepared by Robertson. Greer Grimsley (last seen with SFO in the role of John the Baptist in Richard Strauss’ “Salome” in 2009) will sing the role of the Dutchman. The role of Senta, willing to sacrifice herself for the sake of the Dutchman’s cursed soul, will be sung by Petra Maria Schnitzer, who will be making her SFO debut. Erik, who hopes to marry Senta, will be sung by Ian Storey; and Senta’s father, Daland, will be sung by Kristinn Sigmundsson.
The full run of The Flying Dutchman will consist of seven performances. These will take place on October 22 at 8 p.m., October 26 at 8 p.m., October 31 at 7:30 p.m., November 3 at 2 p.m., November 7 at 7:30 p.m., November 12 at 7:30 p.m., and November 15 at 8 p.m. Tickets are again priced from $23 to $385 and may be purchased through the event page for this production. Both these tickets at the $10 Standing Room tickets are again also available at the Box Office.
As previously mentioned, the performance of Verdi’s setting of the Requiem Mass text will bring the SFO Orchestra and Chorus together with the orchestra and chorus of the Neapolitan Teatro di San Carlo. The vocal soloists will be Leah Crocetto, Margaret Mezzacappa, Michael Fabiano, and Vitalij Kowaljow. Nicola Luisotti will conduct.
This performance will begin at 8 p.m. on Friday, October 25. Tickets are priced from $25 to $250, and availability is limited. Tickets may be purchased at the Box Office or online through the corresponding event page.