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 fourth of six such observances of performances from the company’s 1962 Fall season.
In the early 1960s, as had been the tradition for decades, the San Francisco Opera would typically perform an opera just two times during a season (often in the earlier decades only once). This would result in what now might seem a unbelievably rapid pace in mounting productions.
I had already seen three productions – Berg’s “Wozzeck” on September 15, Verdi’s “Don Carlo” on September 22 and Verdi’s “Otello” on October 9.
But, in the meantime the opera company had also mounted productions of Puccini’s “La Boheme” (September 18 and 29), Bizet’s “Carmen” (September 20 and October 5), Gounod’s “Faust” September 25 and 28), Richard Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier” (September 27), Verdi’s “Trovatore” (October 2 and 6) and Donizetti’s “Daughter of the Regiment” (matinee and evening performances on October 4), not even counting the performances of “Don Carlo” (September 18) and “Wozzeck” (September 21) I didn’t attend.
Two nights after the season’s first “Otello”, a brand new production of Verdi’s “Falstaff” was launched with Welsh bass-baritone Geraint Evans showing off one of his greatest roles to the San Francisco audiences.
[Below: Welsh bass-baritone Geraint Evans was Sir John Falstaff; resized image of a David Griffiths portrait, from david-griffiths.co.uk.]
Lest anyone think Evans might have been spending all of his time rehearsing the new production in the previous three and a half weeks, he appeared twice as Wozzeck and twice as Schaunard in “Boheme”.
The new production was designed by the Hungarian director Elemer Nagy. My friend and colleague Arthur Bloomfield, then music critic for the San Francisco Examiner spoke of his effervescent production in the following terms. “Nagy’s “Falstaff” was [a] winner, one of those rare productions . . . which are so captivating one wants to take the whole confection, stuff it in a pocket, and take it home. Nagy dressed the stage Elizabethan-fashion with a dual-level unit set including an upper central balcony reached by comically precipitous stairs. Changes of scene and related announcements conveyed via signs . . denoted “An Inn”, “Ford’s House”, “Intermission”, “The End”, and ultimately, “Good Night”.
Nagy created the sets for two San Francisco Opera “mainstage” productions – Bellini’s “La Sonnambula” seen in 1960 and 1963 and the 1962 “Falstaff” which was to return in subsequent seasons.
The new production was the occasion of the American debut of 37 year old Viennese soprano Wilma Lipp as Alice Ford, an assignment that comes with some of the most magical of Verdian music.
The role of Mistress Meg Page was one of the dizzying list of assignments for 34 year old Swedish mezzo-soprano Kerstin Meyer, who would not only sing in “Falstaff” but in the days before had performed Octavian in “Rosenkavalier”, Siebel in “Faust” and the Duchess of Berkenfield in “Daughter of the Regiment”, but was preparing the role of Baba the Turk in San Francisco Opera’s first production of Stravinsky’s “Rake’s Progress”. It was the only time I saw either performer.
The biggest name of the evening was Italian mezzo-contralto Giulietta Simionato, who had appeared in San Francisco before in a single season in 1953 and performed two performances each of three roles in 1962 – Azucena in “Trovatore” and Santuzza in Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” in addition to Dame Quickly in “Falstaff”.
[Below: Giulietta Simionato in a contemporary production photograph.]
Even though this was the only time I saw the great Italian artist, Simionato employed all her renowned vocal and comic skill, in a performance that anyone who saw it should recall vividly.
The other particularly memorable performance in an enchanted operatic evening, was that of Thomas Stewart as Ford, showing his mastery of another lyric Verdi baritone role, just a few days after his strong showing as Rodrigo [See Historical Performances: Konya, Tozzi, Dalis, Thomas Stewart in “Don Carlo” at San Francisco Opera – September 22, 1962].
[Below: Thomas Stewart as Ford, here in a production photograph for the New York Metropolitan Opera.]
In the performance, the lovers were Glade Peterson (Fenton) and Jolanda Meneguzzer (Nannetta). The comic comprimario artists were Michael Langdon as Pistola, Howard Fried as Dr Caius, and Raymond Manton as Bardolfo, Janos Ferencsik conducted. Paul Hager was stage director.