The “Golden West” Does Puccini 2008-2010

Although the three major opera companies in California – San Francisco Opera, Los Angeles Opera and San Diego Opera – frequently present works of the great Italian opera composer, Giacomo Puccini, one can expect special attention to his compositions as we approach the 150th anniversary of Puccini’s birth on December 22, 1858.

In fact, between the productions that the three companies have already announced, between June 2008 and February 2011, one can plan to see every one of Puccini’s ten operas between “Manon Lescaut” (1893) and “Turandot” (1926) in a major production at least one of the California opera companies, including a celebration of the centenary of “La Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West)” in 2010 at the San Francisco Opera.

This posting begins a series in which upcoming Puccini productions at the major California opera companies are highlighted.  Each Puccini opera whose performance dates have been officially announced and whose first performance is in June 2008 or later is listed here.  (It is our expectation that all those productions listed below will be reviewed by this website.)

La Rondine (Los Angeles Opera) June 9, 12, 15, 19, 22, 25 and 28, 2008

Los Angeles Opera and Washington National Opera have jointly created this new production of Puccini’s  sophisticated, but often misunderstood, “La Rondine”.

In Los Angeles, Patricia Racette will be Magda and Marcus Haddock will be the handsome provincial, Ruggero, who unsuspectingly plays into Magda’s sexual fantasies.  Rounding out the cast are Greg Fedderly (Prunier) and Amanda Squitieri (Lisette), and the excellent David Pittsinger as Rambaldo, Magda’s “common-law” husband, to whom, in mainstream productions of the opera, she returns like a swallow (rondine).

[Below: Patricia Racette (Magda) and Marcus Haddock (Ruggero) fall in love in Act II of L. A. Opera’s “La Rondine”; edited image, based on a Robert Millard photograph, courtesy of Los Angeles Opera.]

Keri-Lynn Wilson will conduct. Marta Domingo is the stage director. Domingo is a champion of an alternative ending of the opera, in which Magda loses Ruggero and rejects the idea of a return to Rambaldo.  To do so, she commissioned the orchestration of a third act Rambaldo-Magda duet that Puccini wrote, but, until this production, has not ever been performed. Other innovations abound in Domingo’s quite different view of the opera.

For a Puccini fan visiting L. A., note that on four of the first five performance dates (all except the 19th), you can also see it with L.A. Opera’s “Tosca” on successive days.

In its first major production in San Francisco in 2007, the opera, which abounds in melody, was a sellout.  If you are interested only in operas with “substantive” plots and worry about the opinion of many 20th century  commentators on the opera that the third act of the mainstream version is “weak”, read my analysis as the antidote to the anti-“Rondine” poison: Reflecting on Puccini’s “Rondine”.

For the performance review, see: Marta Domingo’s Reconceptualization of “Rondine” Returns to L. A. – June 7, 2008

Il Trittico [Il Tabarro, Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi] (Los Angeles Opera) September 6, 11, 14, 17, 21, 23 and 26, 2008

It is rarity to have the three operas of the “Trittico”, that Puccini intended be performed in the same night, actually presented as a threesome.  It is even rarer to have new productions, all star casts and  Hollywood A-List directors (Academy awards decorating their mantlepieces) in convergence in what surely will be the hottest ticket in Los Angeles Opera history.

How to begin?  James Conlon will conduct all three operas.  Woody Allen (“Annie Hall”) will direct “Schicchi” while William Friedkin (“The French Connection”, “The Exorcist”, “To Live and Die in L. A.”) will direct “Il Tabarro” and “Suor Angelica”. Broadway set and costume designer Santo Loquasto (14 Tony nominations and a few Oscar nominations as well) is the designer for all three productions.

[Below: Sir Thomas Allen in Woody Allen’s production of “Gianni Schicchi”; edited image, based on a Robert Millard photograph, courtesy of Los Angeles Opera.]

The stellar casts include Anja Kampe (Giorgietta), Mark Delavan (Michele) and Salvatore Licitra (Luigi) for “Tabarro”, Sondra Radvanovsky (Angelica) and Larissa Diadkova (The Princess) in “Suor Angelica” and Sir Thomas Allen as Schicchi.

For the performance reviews, see: French Connection: Friedkin’s Cinematic “Tabarro” – L A Opera September 6, 2008 and

Friedkin’s Miraculous, Radvanovsky’s Revelatory L.A. “Suor Angelica” – September 6, 2008 and

Woody Allen’s L. A. “Gianni Schicchi”: Spoofing Italian Films – September 6, 2008

Madama Butterfly (Los Angeles Opera) October 1, 5, 8, 10, 12, 15 and 18, 2008

[Below right: the Robert Wilson conceptualization of “Madama Butterfly”, Los Angeles, 2004; edited image, based on a Robert Millard photograph, courtesy of Los Angeles Opera.]

Los Angeles Opera has taken the lead  in the Golden West in mounting operatic productions by Robert Wilson, whose signature “minimalist” style, evokes strong controversy.  Among this website’s contributors, Stephen found that “Wilson’s Butterfly [was] wonderful . . . nearly perfect”, but Tom inveighed against it as “meaningless and empty”.

In its second reappearance since its launch in 2004, James Conlon is scheduled to conduct Liping Zhang (Butterfly) and Franco Farina (Pinkerton). Stephen Powell and Vladimir Chernov share the role of Sharpless; Catherine Keen and Ning Liang, that of Suzuki.

For the subsequent performance review, see: Liping Zhang Resplendent in Robert Wilson’s L. A. “Butterfly” – October 1, 2008

La Boheme (San Francisco Opera) November 16, 19, 22, 25, 28, 29, 30; December 2, 4 and 7, 2008

Nicola Luisotti, San Francisco Opera’s Musical Director-Elect, will conduct Puccini’s most popular opera.  Angela Gheorghiu is scheduled for six of the seven November performances – all except November 29th.  Gheorghiu’s colleagues will be Piotr Beczala as Rodolfo, Norah Amsellem as Musetta, and Oren Gradus as Colline).  Melody Moore is to replace Gheorghiu on December 2, with the aforementioned cast.

[Below: Rodolfo (Piotr Beczala) comforts Mimi (Angela Gheorghiu); edited image, based on Terrence McCarthy photograph, courtesy of San Francisco Opera.]

On November 29, December 4 and 7, an alternate cast consiting of Maija Kovaleska (Mimi), Tamara Wapinsky (Musetta), Joseph Calleja (Rodolfo) and Kenneth Kellogg (Colline) will perform.  For all performances the Marcello is to be Gabriele Viviani.  The sets will be those that Michael Yeargan created for the San Francisco Opera. Harry Silverstein (director for Opera Pacific’s “Susannah”) is stage director.

For the subsequent performance review, see: The Luisotti “Boheme” in San Francisco – November 22, 2008

Tosca (San Diego Opera) January 24, 27, 30, February 1 and 4, 2009

[Below right: Act III of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle production; the deaths of Cavaradossi and Tosca; edited image, based on photo by Brett Coomer, courtesy of Houston Grand Opera.]

The Tosca is French soprano Sylvie Valayre and the Mario is American tenor Marcus Haddock, both in their San Diego debuts.

Greer Grimsley as Baron Scarpia.   Edoardo Mueller conducts and Andrew Sinclair, who staged San Diego Opera’s “Pearl Fishers (Les Pecheurs de Perles)”, is the director.

San Diego Opera, which owns one of the classic (and revolutionary) Jean-Pierre Ponnelle productions, originally created for Placido Domingo at San Francisco Opera in 1972, puts it back on display for the Puccini birthday celebrations.

For the subsequent performance review, see: Grimsley Memorable in San Diego Opera’s Quasi-Traditional “Tosca” – January 27, 2009

Madama Butterfly (San Diego Opera) May 9, 12, 15, 17 and 20, 2009

Patricia Racette (Butterfly), who has become associated with the title role of the most popular 20th century opera joins Uruguayan Tenor Carlo Ventre (Pinkerton), Malcolm Mackenzie (Sharpless) and Susanna Guzman (Suzuki).

[Left: Below Carlo Ventre (Pinkerton) consoles Patricia Racette (Cio Cio San); edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of San Diego Opera.]

Carlo Ventre’s recent San Diego Opera performances as Verdi’s “Rhadames” demonstrated that Ventre should be considered as one of the leading tenors of our day. Francesco Zambello’s production will be used.  Garnett Bruce will be the stage director.

For the subsequent performance review, see: Racette, Ventre Impress in Zambello-Inspired “Butterfly” at San Diego Opera- May 20, 2009.

Tosca (San Francisco Opera) June 2, 5, 11, 14, 17, 20, 23 and 26, 2009

Tosca is scheduled to be the debut role of Adrianne Pieczonka at San Francisco Opera, and Lado Ataneli will debut there also as the Baron Scarpia.  Robert Aronica returns to the War Memorial as Mario Cavaradossi.

[Below: Tosca (Adrianne Pieczonka) searches for the safe conduct letter after killing Baron Scarpia (Lado Ataneli); edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

The production is Thierry Bosquet’s, whose elegant sets (which replaced the revelatory Ponnelle “Tosca” now owned by San Diego Opera) are inspired by the original sets that opened the War Memorial Opera House in 1932.  Lotfi Mansouri is to be the stage director, with Marco Armiliato conducting.

For the subsequent performance review, see: House of Puccini: Striking San Francisco Opera “Tosca” with Pieczonka, Ataneli and Ventre – June 14, 2009.