Adler Fellow Eugene Brancoveanu: An Appreciation

[The following tribute to Adler Fellow Eugene Brancoveanu complements my review of the 2006 performances of the San Francisco Opera production of Rossini’s “Barber of Seville”.]

Piano, pianissimo senza parlar

The first words of “Barbiere” are sung by Almaviva’s henchman, Fiorello.  Before I get into the main body of the performance critique (see: Deconstructing S.F. Opera’s Super-sized “Barber” – November 12, 2006), this is as good a time as any to praise the San Francisco Opera for its casting of Adler Fellow Eugene Brancoveanu in this very funny comprimario role. Brancoveanu had appeared earlier in the Fall as Frank in Johann Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus”.  Granted, opera stars with international reputations do sing the important role of Frank, as has Brancoveanu, but this fall his gigantic voice and engaging personality has forced our attention also to the lines that Christian/Silvano sings in Verdi’s “Ballo in Maschera”, that Marullo sings in Verdi’s “Rigoletto”, that the Innkeeper and Ship’s Captain sing in Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” and that Morales sings in Bizet’s “Carmen”.

[Below: Eugene Brancoveanu; resized image from a Robert Bengtson photograph.]

There are many cases of major international careers having developed in the years after artists performed small parts in San Francisco. As a single example out of many that can be offered, 20 years ago Deborah Voigt was singing the Celestial Voice in Verdi’s “Don Carlos” in San Francisco. Perhaps there were people in that audience who remarked that the soprano who sang the Celestial Voice would be a great Sieglinde one day, but my recollection was that it was the singing of the principals Neil Shicoff and Pilar Lorengar and their colleagues in major roles on which most of the audience focused.

Brancoveanu’s Adler fellowship ends this fall, and he will move into almost certain stardom internationally. One hopes that his experiences in San Francisco have led him already to sign contracts in future years for major starring roles here. As a fearless spectator of the San Francisco Opera scene, I even offer two suggestions. First, in 2009 we have the opportunity of celebrating the 150th anniversary of Gounod’s “Faust”.

What better gift to Northern California than a new production of that opera, played straight (there are sufficient bizarre interpretations of the opera around to last several centuries) with Brancoveanu as Valentin with all the music Gounod wrote for the part presented intact.

Second, in 2010, we have the opportunity of celebrating the centennial of Puccini’s “Girl of the Golden West”. Since it was first produced at the Met in New York City, there will surely be an observance there. But San Francisco Opera is the leading opera house of the Golden West, and a vibrant new production, with Brancoveanu as Jack Rance, should prove exciting fare. (I was present at the San Francisco Opera observance of the 50th anniversary of the opera’s Met premiere, when Dorothy Kirsten and Sandor Konya rode about the stage on horseback.)