On October 3, 1963, I attended my first performance ever of Puccini’s “Tosca” at the San Francisco Opera, in which Leontyne Price appeared in the title role, with Hungarian tenor Sandor Konya as Cavaradossi and Australian baritone John Shaw as Scarpia.
Twelve days earlier I had seen Price, Konya and Shaw in Verdi’s “Aida” [See 50 Year Anniversaries: “Aida” with Price, Konya, Resnik, Shaw and Tozzi – San Francisco Opera, September 21, 1963].
[Below: Leontyne Price as Floria Tosca at the New York Metropolitan Opera.]
In a previous 50-year anniversary observation [see Young Leontyne’s 1957 S. F. Opera Debut Season: A Supernova is Born]. I had noted the relationship between the San Francisco Opera and RCA Victor records that recorded a large share of Price’s many complete operas. However, Price’s discography includes other prominent labels in addition to RCA Victor.
In 1963, Price sang three roles with the San Francisco Opera – Aida, Tosca, and Leonora in Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino”.
Price’s “Aida” for Decca Records, conducted by Georg Solti, with Jon Vickers (another artist in San Francisco Opera’s 1963 season), Robert Merrill and Giorgio Tozzi had been released in 1961. Price’s “Tosca” for Decca, conducted by Herbert von Karajan, with Giuseppe di Stefano and Giuseppe Taddei, had been released in 1962. Her appearances as Aida and Tosca were enhanced Decca’s publicity promoting sales of those recordings.
(Price’s appearances in “Forza” coincided with preparations for a new RCA Victor recording to be released in 1964.)
In my remarks about Price’s 1957 debut, I had expressed satisfaction that each of her San Francisco Opera appearances in the 1960s was closely associated with a recent (or upcoming) studio recording, so that, even recognizing that a studio and live performance have somewhat different sound, that there exists a contemporaneous record of her vocal qualities during this period.
There exist fewer examples of studio recordings of Sandor Konya’s voice in the early 1960s, although his RCA/BMG recording of Wagner’s “Lohengrin” was released a few years after his live performance as Lohengrin in San Francisco [see 50 Year Anniversaries: Sandor Konya, Irene Dalis in “Lohengrin” – San Francisco Opera, October 27, 1960.]
[Below: Sandor Konya as Mario Cavaradossi in the San Francisco Opera production of Puccini’s “Tosca”; edited image of a Pete Peters photograph .]
The trio of artists – Price, Konya, and Shaw – each gave strong performances, as they did in “Aida”, that resonated through the vibrant acoustics of the War Memorial Opera House.
“Tosca” was conducted by Georges Pretre, who appeared at the War Memorial on only 11 occasions total over the 1963 and 1964 seasons. Those 11 performances were split between five operas, three each of “Tosca” and Wagner’s “Parsifal” (1964), one of Bizet’s “Carmen” (1964), and two of Saint-Saens’ “Samson et Dalila” and Richard Strauss’ “Capriccio”. Pretre also joined the tour to Los Angeles for six performances total in Los Angeles and one in Sacramento.
[Below: Conductor Georges Pretre; resized image of a promotional photograph.]
“Tosca” performances at the War Memorial are usually stellar occasions, particularly in the years of the General Directorship of Kurt Herbert Adler.
Among the great pairings of artists as Tosca and Cavaradossi that I would see subsequently at this house were Marie Collier and Wagnerian tenor Jess Thomas (!), Regine Crespin and Ludovic Spiess, Dorothy Kirsten and Placido Domingo (and, later with Wieslaw Ochman), Janis Martin and Giacomo Aragall, Montserrat Caballe and Luciano Pavarotti, and Magda Olivero and Juan Lloveras, and – in the first year of Terence McEwen’s general directorship that succeeded Adler’s tenure – Dame Gwyneth Jones and Aragall.)
[For another report on a performance in which Price and Konya appeared together, see: 50 Year Anniversaries: Leontyne Price, Sandor Konya in “Madama Butterfly”: San Francisco Opera, September 28, 1961.]