Historical Performances: Konya, Tozzi, Dalis, Thomas Stewart in “Don Carlo” at San Francisco Opera – September 22, 1962

Note from William: This post continues my series of observances of historic performances that I attended at San Francisco Opera during the general directorship of Kurt Herbert Adler. This is the second of six such observances of performances from the company’s 1962 Fall season.

The second opera on my 1962 Saturday night San Francisco Opera series was Verdi’s “Don Carlo”. It was the first performance of “Don Carlo” I ever attended, and was only the fifth performance ever at the San Francisco Opera House.

It was a new production –  the second (and last) San Francisco Opera production whose sets were created by Indiana University’s Andreas Nomikos, designer of the 1961 season’s Nabucco [See 50 Year Anniversaries: Bastianini’s “Nabucco”, with Tozzi, Cioni and Janis Martin – San Francisco Opera, October 23, 1961.] Revivals of “Nabucco” in 1964 and 1970 and of  “Don Carlo” in 1966 assured the presence of Nomikos’ works in five of the decade’s seasons.

In reflecting on the significance of the 1962 “Don Carlo” in San Francisco Opera history, I can see several trends working together.

First, it represents the continuing expansion of the repertory in San Francisco beginning in the 1950s. (I have previously reported on productions of Mozart’s “Cosi fan Tutte” (1956), Richard Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos” (1957) and “Die Frau Ohne Schatten” (1960), Verdi’s “Nabucco” (1961) and  Berg’s “Wozzeck” (1962).)

Second, it represents the continued enlargement of the pool of international artists available to sing at the San Francisco Opera’s War Memorial Opera House as the European nations concentrate on reconstruction after the devastation of the second world war.

Geopolitics and an Opera Company’s Artists Roster

I have reported in the past on San Francisco Opera’s role promoting reconciliation with German and Italian artists whose wartime careers were spent either in their nation’s armed forces or opera companies. During the postwar reconstruction era, the pool of operatic talent encompassed artists from throughout Western Europe, although the geopolitical “Iron Curtain” assured that careers based in the Soviet bloc were usually restricted from engagements in the West.

In the early postwar period, it was important as to which side of the Iron Curtain you pursued your career. Thus, the tenor in the title role in 1962’s “Don Carlo”, Sandor Konya, although a Hungarian, whose country was “behind the Iron Curtain”, pursued his operatic training not in the Eastern bloc, but in Rome and Milan, performing in his 20s in the Western German cities of Hamburg and Stuttgart, before establishing himself at the Western bloc’s Deutsche Oper Berlin.

[Below: Tenor Sandor Konya; resized image of a production photograph.]

Then, at age 37, Konya’s American debut occurred in San Francisco in 1960. [For my reports on Konya’s San Francisco roles up until this time, see: 50th Birthday Celebrations: Dorothy Kirsten Rides High in “Girl of the Golden West” – San Francisco Opera, October 1, 1960 and 50 Year Anniversaries: Sandor Konya, Irene Dalis in “Lohengrin” – San Francisco Opera, October 27, 1960 and 50 Year Anniversaries: Leontyne Price, Sandor Konya in “Madama Butterfly”: San Francisco Opera, September 28, 1961.]

Another trend that becomes noticeable from 1962 on in San Francisco is the engagement of Spanish singers, particularly those associated with the genre of zarzuela, a form of vocal performance with which virtually all major Spanish opera singers were associated, but which was in disfavor for most of the autorcratic rule of Generalissimo Francisco Franco.

But true to the maxim that “the enemy of your enemy . . ” the Eisenhower administration reconciled with Franco. A side effect of the warming American relations with Spain, besides creation of American military bases in Rota and elsewhere, was the ease with which Spanish opera singers could travel throughout the West.

1962 brought Victoria de los Angeles to San Francisco, at that time the best known in the United States of a brilliant group of lyric Spanish mezzos and sopranos that would be followed by the San Francisco debuts of Pilar Lorengar in 1964, Teresa Berganza in 1968 and Montserrat Caballe in 1977.

Much lesser known was Spanish soprano Consuelo Rubio who was the Elisabetta in the 1962 “Don Carlo”. She made a favorable impression, but was the only principal in the cast not to have multiple return engagements in San Francisco.

[Below: Spanish soprano Consuelo Rubio; edited image, based on a publicity photograph.]

The most important debut in this production was that of the Marquis de Posa, 34 year old bass-baritone Thomas Stewart, the Juilliard-trained Texan, whose career had in recent years prospered in Berlin and Bayreuth.

Two of the principals from the San Francisco Opera’s 1958 production of “Don Carlo” (which had been on loan from the Lyric Opera of Chicago) repeated their roles for 1962’s new Nomikos production. The 39 year old Illinois basso Giorgio Tozzi was King Phillip; the 37 year old California mezzo-soprano Irene Dalis was the Princess Eboli.

Significantly, both Thomas Stewart and Irene Dalis, later in their careers, were both recipients of the prestigious San Francisco Opera Medal.

[Irene Dalis was the Princess Eboli; edited image of a production photograph.]

The role of Eboli must be considered Dalis’ signature role, since she performed it for her professional debut in Germany in at age 26, and also for her San Francisco Opera debut in 1958 and Metropolitan Opera debut in 1959.

The British bass-bartione Michael Langdon, whose American debut had occurred the previous week as the Doctor in “Wozzeck” was the Grand Inquisitor. John Macurdy was “a Friar” whom we know to be the apparition of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Francesco Molinari-Pradelli conducted. Dino Yannopoulos was Stage Director.

The Evolution of “Don Carlos”

These first performances of “Don Carlo” were in the four act Italian version, which was in vogue in the mid-20th century. This was a period in which versions in Italian were used for most performances of works of Italian composers who wrote  operas in French for Paris, that were later revised for Italian performance. By 1986, the San Francisco Opera was ready for a new production of the five act French version that begins with the Fontainebleu scene.

[Below: a scene from the 1962 production of “Don Carlo”; edited image, based on a Carolyn Mason Jones photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


It’s been the five act version with the Fontainebleu that’s held the boards in San Francisco since, although it has alternated between being performed in French (1986, 2003) and Italian (1992, 1998), both reversions to Italian occurring during the general directorship of Lotfi Mansouri.

“Don Carlos” is the beneficiary of much musicological scholarship, which has restored much of the music that was cut at various times from the score, including music Verdi was forced to strike out before its first Parisian performance to conform with the opera company’s preferred maximum duration of any opera.

The most satisfactory performance I’ve ever seen of “Don Carlo” is John Caird’s production for the Welsh National Opera that was performed at Houston Grand Opera earlier this year, in the French version. The production restores music (and storyline) that Verdi was forced to cut from the beginning of the Fontainebleu scene [See Brandon Jovanovich Triumphant in Historic “Don Carlos” Production – Houston Grand Opera, April 13, 2012.] It is this version that I would wish to see prevail in future perfomrances of this great masterpiece.