Arthur Bloomfield: Dropping in On the Final Adler Years at the San Francisco Opera – The Spirit of ’78

Our guest commentator Arthur Bloomfield writes:

When, in 1977, my publisher asked me to bring my history of the SFO up to date, naturally I jumped at the opportunity and the book, The San Francisco Opera 1922-78, was duly published. But this was several years before the great regime of Kurt Herbert Adler came to an end, and other work shortly called me away, so his last seasons, 1978 through 1981, were never chronicled by this observer in book form.

[Below: Kurt Herbert Adler; edited image, based on an historical photograph from the Bancroft Library.]

But broadcast tapes of most of the performances from this indubitably fertile period in the company’s history – Adler obviously intent on leaving his desk, and podium, on the wings of crescendo – are parked just a few feet from where I’m writing these words. Herewith then, the first in an occasional series of articles in which a number of these broadcasts will be revisited.

William who was there of course, five rows ahead of me in the Orchestra section of the War Memorial Opera House, will be offering comment and memories too. And meanwhile, naturally, I hope you’ll visit my new e-book on the styles of the great oldtime conductors, at……

Ten operas more or less were the norm on Adler’s autumn menu in the Late 70s and my wife and I used to feel fairly confident of a 90 pct. success rate. Not bad for a company maneuvering so much potential magic on and off stage between Labor Day and the final crumbs of pumpkin pie in Thanksgiving’s wake. Let’s plunge in, via my faithful tape deck, with a memorable Der Rosenkavalier conducted by the Budapest Opera’s musical director Janos Ferencsik and starring Leonie Rysanek as the Marschallin, a role she rediscovered at age 42 having given it up at 25.

[Below: Leonie Rysanek as the Marschallin in Richard Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier”; historical photograph, from the  Austria-Forum (Die oesterreichische Wissensnetz).]

Ferencsik rouses us immediately with an ultra-ebullient prelude, reminiscent perhaps of Erich Kleiber down at the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires. Elegantly shaded, it’s also a very sexy piece of work, the principal clarinet almost moaning with joy half way along. Well, it was Ferencsik over lunch in San Francisco’s North Beach who explained to me in his husky Mittel Europa English exactly where the orgasm in Strauss’ prelude is — the whooping horns, of course, how could I be so naive!

More wonderful stuff from his baton: in the getting-to-know-you duet of Octavian and Sophie in Act 2 hovering woodwinds chirp helpfully like angels of awakening love; and then by sweeping through much of the ensemble bedlam of the ensuing scene he seriously reduces the tedium factor even perfect Straussians would have to admit is a challenge at this point in a Rosenkavalier evening.

[Below: Conductor Janos Ferencsik, sitting onstage in the San Francisco Opera’s sets for Richard Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier”; resized image, based on an Ira Nowinski photograph for the San Francisco Opera.]

The Final Adler Seasons at the San Francisco Opera with Arthur Bloomfield – The Spirit of ’78, Part 2.)

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For previous commentaries by Arthur Bloomfield, see:

Guest Commentator Arthur Bloomfield: “A Great Time Machine Trip” and,

Arthur Bloomfield’s Guest Commentary on mid-20th Century Conductors, Part 2: Fritz Reiner and,

Arthur Bloomfield’s Guest Commentary on mid-20th Century Conductors, Part 3: Gennaro Papi and,

Arthur Bloomfield’s Guest Commentary on mid-20th Century Conductors, Part 4: Wilhelm Furtwaengler.