The “Golden West” Does Puccini 2008-2010 Part II

Over a year ago this website chronicled the performances of Puccini operas planned by California’s three major opera companies during the 150th anniversary of Giacomo Puccini’s birth (December 1858). (See: The “Golden West” Does Puccini 2008-2010. For a report of another Puccini sesquicentennial celebration in the Golden State, see: Puccini’s 150th Birthday Party Takes Place as Santa Barbara Firestorm Rages – November 15, 2008.)

The Tuscan composer’s three most popular works, “La Boheme, “Madama Butterfly” and “Tosca”, as expected,  were well represented with San Francisco Opera doing all three works during their 2007-08 or 2008-09 seasons and Los Angeles Opera doing “Tosca” and “Butterfly” in June and October, 2008.

San Diego Opera also performed “Tosca” and “Butterfly” in January and May 2009.  But when San Diego does “Boheme” next  January, it will be the only major California company to schedule any of these three blockbusters during the 2009-2010 season.

Los Angeles Opera, with Wagner’s “Ring” scheduled and opera seria from Handel and comic opera from Rossini and Donizetti accounting for almost everything else, will have no Puccini at all in 2009-2010, although new productions of the three operas of “Il Trittico” and a revival of “La Rondine” meant that six Puccini operas were performed at the Los Angeles Music Center in 2008.

San Francisco will borrow productions of the three “Trittico” operas  from New York City as vehicles for Patricia Racette, Paolo Gavanelli and Ewa Podles and will celebrate the centenary of “The Girl of the Golden West” next June for Deborah Voigt and Salvatore Licitra.

San Diego Opera, this upcoming season’s only major California company mounting an unalloyed Puccini operatic warhorse, has its own stars to showcase. Ellie Dehn replaces the originally scheduled Anja Harteros (whose work to date in the Golden West, has centered in San Diego), and will be Mimi to Piotr Beczala’s Rodolfo.

Il Tabarro (Puccini) San Francisco Opera, September 15, 18, 24, 27(m), 30 and October 3, 2009.

Three of Puccini’s operas have scenes in Paris.  “Manon Lescaut” and “La Boheme” both have light-hearted Parisian moments that contrast with the despair we know will come.  “Tabarro” has a plot, like Leoncavallo’s “I Pagliacci”, that replays one of the recurring themes of human relationships. An oppressive and jealous husband (Michele) learns that his wife is planning to run away from him with a lover with whom she is conspiring. When that lover appears, Michele kills him.

The whole opera takes place on the river banks of the seamier side of the Seine, with Paris itself, through Puccini’s impressionistic themes for the river’s moving water and the accompanying riverfront sounds, a fundamental element of the opera.

Patricia Racette will perform the role of Giorgetta, the woman who wishes to escape with Luigi (Brandon Jovanovich) from her loveless marriage to Michele. Were this Racette’s only assignment of the night, it would be a major reason for buying a ticket to one of these performances.

But rare as it is for an opera company to mount all three operas of the “Trittico”, it is many times rarer for any soprano to play all three leading roles. Additionally, her Michele, Paolo Gavanelli, will himself assay, for the first time in his career, the title role of the comic opera of the three, “Gianni Schicchi”.

[Below: Patricia Racette, scheduled to be one of the few major sopranos in history to sing all three lead soprano parts in the three operas of the “Trittico” will be Giorgetta in “Tabarro”, will have the title role in “Suor Angelica” and will be Lauretta in “Gianni Schicchi”; edited image of a photograph, courtesy of]

Patrick Summers will conduct all three operas, which will use Allen Moyer’s sets from  New York City Opera. Andrea Silvestrelli and Catherine Cook respectively assay the character roles of Il Talpa and La Frugola.

For the performance review, see: Gavanelli, Racette, Jovanovich In Rousing “Tabarro” at San Francisco Opera – September 15, 2009.

Suor Angelica (Puccini) San Francisco Opera, September 15, 18, 24, 27(m), 30 and October 3, 2009.

Over the past decade, interest has increased in this least performed of the three “Trittico” operas –  a lesson in the psychological damage that expectations of society and “family honor” can have on a vulnerable woman. When the cold and oppressive Principessa arrives at Angelica’s convent, requiring her signature and consent for disposition of property, Puccini created one of the greatest dramatic scenes between two women in all of opera.

Scheduled as Principessa to Racette’s Angelica is the eminent Polish contralto Ewa Podles, making a belated San Francisco Opera debut, after illness required her withdrawal from last season’s production of Handel’s “Ariodante”.

[Below: Ewa Podles, scheduled to make her San Francisco Opera debut as the Principessa in “Suor Angelica”; edited image of a photograph from San Francisco Opera.]

For the performance review, see: Racette, Podles in San Francisco Opera’s Musically Compelling “Suor Angelica” – September 15, 2009

Gianni Schicchi (Puccini) San Francisco Opera, September 15, 18, 24, 27(m), 30 and October 3, 2009.

Since there are no male roles in “Suor Angelica”, no man can sing in all three “Trittico” operas, but Gavanelli is scheduled to perform a feat that is at least as rare as Racette’s, assuming the two major baritone roles, the dramatic Michele in “Tabarro” and the comic title role of “Gianni Schicchi”. The latter role is a new one for him, that he has taken on for the San Francisco Opera.

[Below: Paolo Gavanelli, who will be Michele in “Il Tabarro”, and later in the evening, Gianni Schicchi; edited image of photograph, courtesy of IMG Artists.]

Adler Fellow David Lomeli is the Rinuccio and Andrea Silvestrelli, repeating a role heard in 2008 at Los Angeles Opera, the Simone.

For the performance review, see: Gavanelli’s Commanding Presence as San Francisco Opera’s Gianni Schicchi – September 15, 2009.

La Boheme (Puccini), San Diego Opera, January 30, February 2, 5 and 7(m), 2010.

Piotr Beczala makes his San Diego Opera debut as Rodolfo, paired with the Mimi of Ellie Dehn, also debuting in San Diego Opera.

[Below: Ellie Dehn is Mimi and Piotr Beczala is Rodolfo; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Diego Opera.]

Others in the cast include Jeff Mattsey as Marcello, Priti Gandhi as Musetta, Malcolm Mackenzie as Schaunard and Alfred Walker as Colline.

[Below: Piotr Beczala as Rodolfo, freezing in his apartment; edited image, based on a Terrence McCarthy photograph, courtesy of San Francisco Opera.]

Karen Keltner will conduct, and E. Loren Meeker will be stage director.

For the performance review, see: Piotr Beczala, Ellie Dehn, Priti Gandhi Stunning in San Diego “La Boheme” – February 5, 2010.

La Fanciulla del West (Puccini), San Francisco Opera, June 9, 12, 15, 18, 24, 27(m), 29 and July 2, 2010.

Nicola Luisotti conducts the centennial celebration for Puccini’s “Girl of the Golden West” in the City by the Golden Gate, whose entrance on the world stage coincided with the discovery of gold in the Sierra foothills, 130 miles to the East.

Fifty years ago, San Francisco Opera celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of “Fanciulla’s” world premiere (that took place at New York’s Metropolitan Opera) in a production in which Dorothy Kirsten the Minnie and Sandor Konya the Dick Johnson rode horses onstage and Tito Gobbi was the Sherriff.

[Below: Deborah Voigt is scheduled for the title role of La Fanciulla del West at San Francisco Opera; edited image, based on a Stephen Chernin photograph for Associated Press.]

For its 100th birthday, Deborah Voigt will be Minnie and Salvatore Licitra will be Johnson, the role Enrico Caruso created. Roberto Frontali will be Sheriff Rance.

[Below: Salvatore Licitra, who will be Dick Johnson; edited image, based on a photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

The esteemed musicologist and Verdi scholar Julian Budden surprised some of his admirers in his extraodinary work “Puccini”, advancing the the cause for this fascinating opera. Budden even hinted that a close analysis of its harmonic complexities might lead one to conclude that this is not a minor, offbeat opera, but one of a small number of truly great operatic masterpieces of the 20th century.

For the performance review, see: Voigt, Licitra Lead Sizzling San Francisco Centennial Celebration for “Girl of the Golden West” – June 9, 2010.)