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 sixteen such observances of performances from the company’s 1965 Fall season.
My Saturday series at the San Francisco Opera had three performances scheduled for September 1965. I’ve already described the first [Historical Performances: Jess Thomas’ Victorious “Die Meistersinger” – San Francisco Opera, September 11, 1965]. The next Saturday night would be my first Johann Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus” and later on my series I would be able to see the legendary soprano Renata Tebaldi’s return to the San Francisco Opera in Giordano’s “Andrea Chénier”.
Since I had experienced disappointment in the past holding a Tebaldi performance ticket when she withdrew for one of the illnesses that plagued her, and had seen her perform only once, I thought it would be prudent to attend a couple of scheduled Tebaldi performances not on my series. I purchased a seat for a Tebaldi-Konya “Boheme”. Then, on the day of the second “Andrea Chénier” I decided to get a standing room ticket for that evening’s performance.
“Chénier”, one of my favorite operas going back to early teenage years, had opened the season on September 10th, but only three performances were scheduled. Although Tebaldi was in all three performances, the title role on my Saturday night series (on October 2) was to be the Brazilian tenor Joao Gibin, while the first two performances were assigned to American tenor Richard Tucker, then 52.
[Below: Richard Tucker as Andrea Chenier in the 1965 production of Giordano’s “Andrea Chénier”; resized image of a production photograph for the San Francisco Opera.]
In order to see Tucker and Tebaldi together, I did all my college homework due the next day and left for the War Memorial Opera House.
That “Chénier” would also be my only chance that season to see Richard Tucker perform in opera. As it turned out, it was the only opera in which I ever saw Tucker. (I was fortunate to be offered an upfront orchestra seat for the final two acts by a patron who apparently thought that Tucker, Tebaldi and Bastianini were not sufficiently interesting for him to stay until the end.)
Chénier sings a big aria in every one of the four acts and hearing Tucker’s Come un bel dì di maggio and final duet with Tebaldi is one of that season’s great memories. I’ll have more to say about Tebaldi in my observances of her “Boheme” and her “Chénier” with Gibin.
[Below: Soprano Renata Tebaldi; edited image of a historical photograph.]
In both performances of “Chénier” the part of Gérard was sung by Italian baritone Ettore Bastianini. Although Bastianini was only 42, he was suffering from an incurable throat cancer which would end his career within the next few weeks (he retired in December 1965) and his life soon after.
I will have more to say about Bastianini in my observance of the October 2 performance. However, both of the performances that I heard and saw that year were extraordinary, confirming that he was one of the most impressive Italian baritones of the 20th century.
[Below: Ettore Bastianini as Carlo Gérard; resized image of an historical photograph.]
Two nights later, I would be back at the opera house for Johann Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus”, on which I will report soon.