Historical Performances: “Nabucco” with Gobbi, Kuchta, Tozzi, Janis Martin – San Francisco Opera, October 15, 1964

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 eighth of 13 such observances of performances from the company’s 1964 Fall season.

On Thursday night October 15th, I added another opera to supplement my 1964 Saturday night subscription to the Fall season of the San Francisco Opera.

Although I had seen the production of Verdi’s “Nabucco” when it was performed three seasons earlier [50 Year Anniversaries: Bastianini’s “Nabucco”, with Tozzi, Cioni and Janis Martin – San Francisco Opera, October 23, 1961], I had wanted to see the great dramatic baritone Tito Gobbi in one of the classic baritone roles.

[Below: Tito Gobbi as Nabucco, in the photograph used for his recording; resized image of an historical photograph.]


I had seen Gobbi perform two of the great baritone roles of Verdi’s later career, Boccanegra [50 Year Anniversaries: “Simon Boccanegra” with Tito Gobbi, Giorgio Tozzi – October 6, 1960] and Iago [50 Year Anniversaries: McCracken, de los Angeles and Gobbi in “Otello” – San Francisco Opera, October 9, 1962 and 50 Year Anniversaries: “Otello” with McCracken, Gobbi and Lorengar – San Francisco Opera, September 19, 1964.]

I had also seen him in two Puccini roles Jack Rance [50th Birthday Celebrations: Dorothy Kirsten Rides High in “Girl of the Golden West” – San Francisco Opera, October 1, 1960] and Gianni Schicchi [50 Year Anniversaries: Tito Gobbi as Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi – San Francisco Opera, October 10, 1964].

[Below: Italian baritone Tito Gobbi; resized image of an historical photograph.]


But it seemed a special opportunity to see him the early Verdi role, Nabucco, that had such an influence on the development of the Italian baritone voice during the decades in which Verdi was the principal authority on how the Italian baritone should sound.

My decision to make a special effort to see Gobbi at the War Memorial Opera House for the third time in hand in his third role that season turned out to be truly important. This turned out to be Gobbi’s last performance ever at the War Memorial Opera House.

Gobbi would sing Nabucco for San Francisco Opera the next Sunday on their annual visit (at that time) to Berkeley’s Hearst Theater and would take part on the San Francisco Opera’s November tour to Southern California.

Other Cast Members

The extraordinarily challenging role of Abigaille was sung by Massachusetts dramatic soprano Gladys Kuchta, whom I recently seen in another extraordinarily challenging role, that of the Empress in Richard Strauss’ “Die Frau ohne Schatten” [Historical Performances: Ella Lee, Dalis, Kuchta, Waechter, Martell in “Frau ohne Schatten” – San Francisco Opera, September 26, 1964].

[Below: Dramatic soprano Gladys Kuchta; edited image, based on an historical photograph.]


A major presence for almost two decades at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, Kuchta had been impressive in her two roles in the 1964 season with the San Francisco Opera, but, this was her second-to-the-last performance at the War Memorial, and except for the 1964 tours to Berkeley and the Southland, she was not to appear with the San Francisco Opera again.

Another artist who was present only for the 1964 and only in two operas was lyric tenor Franco Tagliavini, a 30-year old hailing from the Calabrian city of Reggio Emilia. He was engaged for Ismaele and also for Calaf in Puccini’s “Turandot”, the latter a heavier weight role than his voice would bear.

[Below: Italian Lyric tenor Franco Tagliavini; edited image of an historical photograph.]


He was a plausible Ismaele, without erasing from one’s memory the vibrant Ismaele of spinto  tenor Renato Cioni three years before. Like Gobbi, this was the last season (and like Kuchta, the only season) he performed with the San Francisco Opera.

No artist was more associated with the Andreas Nomikos sets for “Nabucco” tht Giorgio Tozzi, who performed the role of Zaccaria in all nine performances (three in 1961, two in 1964 and four in 1970) that the production was mounted at the War Memorial Opera House. In a season in which he performed the diverse styles of Zaccaria, Gurnemanz in Wagner’s “Parsifal” and Timur in Puccini’s “Turandot”, he consistently displayed the sonority and command of the lower register that one associates with a great basso.

Janis Martin was cast as Fenena simply as an homage to a tumultuous weekend in 1961 when she achieved a level of fame in opera circles.

She performed the principal role of  Ulrica in Verdi’s “Ballo in Maschera” on Sunday evening and to sing the comprimario role of Giovanna in Verdi’s “Rigoletto” for a Monday student matinee performance. However, San Francisco Opera General Director asked that she add to her schedule for that Sunday and Monday the task of learning the role of Fenena and performing it that Monday night to replace the indisposed Margarethe Bence. Her success in pulling off such a feat was resounding.

Poignantly, as I was preparing this 50-year anniversary remembrance of that evening of October 15, 1964, Janis Martin, who was the last of the five “Nabucco” principals still alive, passed on at age 75.