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 tenth of sixteen such observances of performances from the company’s 1965 Fall season.
The next offering on my 1965 Saturday night subscription was the return, after only a season’s absence, of Puccini’s “Tosca”. My first “Tosca” had been with Sandor Konya and Leontyne Price [50 Year Anniversaries: Leontyne Price, Konya, Shaw in “Tosca” – San Francisco Opera, October 3, 1963].
In 1965, the role of Tosca was assigned to Australian dramatic soprano Marie Collier, who had created a sensation the previous season in the company premiere of a Shostakovich opera [50 Year Anniversaries: Shostakovich’s “Katerina Ismailova” with Marie Collier, Jon Vickers – San Francisco Opera, October 31, 1964] and who already had appeared in the 1965 season as Minnie [Historical Performances: “La Fanciulla del West” with Marie Collier and João Gibin – San Francisco Opera, September 26, 1965] and Musetta in Puccini’s “La Boheme”.
[Below: Australian dramatic soprano Marie Collier in the 1965 San Francisco Opera performances of Puccini’s “Tosca”; edited image, based on a Maria de Monte photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera Archives.]
Collier had created a sensation at the Sadlers’ Wells Opera Company in Great Britain with the “Western” premieres of Shostakovich’s “Katerina” (now universally presented in the more familiar version named “Lady Macbeth of Mtensk”) and Janacek’s “Makropulos Case”‘ The American debut of the Janacek Opera would be mounted by San Francisco Opera in its Fall 1966 season.
Each of the Collier performances I attended in the three consecutive seasons 1964 through 1966 was memorable for her dramatic intensity and gleaming voice. I was able to see two of the three scheduled San Francisco Opera performances of “Tosca” that season (each with Collier in the title role)
The Cavaradossi for this first of three 1965 “Tosca” performances was Hungarian tenor Sandor Konya. I would see the second Cavaradossi (South Dakota heldentenor Jess Thomas) five days later [see Historical Performances: “Tosca” with Marie Collier, Jess Thomas and Ramon Vinay – San Francisco Opera, October 21, 1965].
Although I probably attended more San Francisco Opera performances that season than almost any other college student, I suspect I would have tried to get to the last “Tosca” on November 2nd had I known that it would be the only performance in San Francisco Opera history that superstar tenor Franco Corelli would sing at the War Memorial Opera House. I never saw Corelli in live performance.
But I did see Konya’s Cavaradossi twice, first in 1963 with Leontyne Price and then with Collier, each a memorable experience, each soprano exuding star quality but with quite different approaches to acting.
Of the trio of main roles, Cavaradossi, with two of the great tenor arias in Italian opera, can be a shade less intense an actor than the Tosca or Scarpia as long as he can do wonders with Recondita armonia and E lucevan le stelle. Konya had a glorious spinto voice, perfectly matched for the War Memorial Opera House.
[Below: Hungarian tenor Sandor Konya as Mario Cavaradossi in the 1965 San Francisco Opera production of Puccini’s “Tosca”; edited image, based on a Pete Peters photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
Konya would have five more performances with the San Francisco Opera company (two of which I attended). Three of Konya’s final San Francisco performances would be in the role of Riccardo in a new production of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” whose premiere at San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House would take place three nights later.
The final 1965 San Francisco Opera performance by Konya took place in Los Angeles on the occasion of the dedication of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Los Angeles Music Center.
Konya’s fifth and last performance San Francisco Opera performance ever was a 1974 performance of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” – that happened to take part on my subscription series – starring Spanish soprano Pilar Lorengar for which General Director Kurt Herbert Adler persuaded Konya to replace an ailing colleague.
[Below: Chilean baritone Ramon Vinay as Baron Scarpia in the 1965 San Francisco Opera performance of Puccini’s “Tosca”; edited image of a Carolyn Mason Jones photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera Archives.]
Konya had been a mainstay of the Italian and German repertories at the San Francisco Opera during the first half of the 1960s.
In addition to the 1963 Cavaradossi, Konya had introduced me to live performances of five roles – Puccini’s Dick Johnson [50th Birthday Celebrations: Dorothy Kirsten Rides High in “Girl of the Golden West” – San Francisco Opera, October 1, 1960], Wagner’s Lohengrin [50 Year Anniversaries: Sandor Konya, Irene Dalis in “Lohengrin” – San Francisco Opera, October 27, 1960], Verdi’s Don Carlo [50 Year Anniversaries: Tozzi, Konya, Dalis, Thomas Stewart in “Don Carlo” at San Francisco Opera – September 22, 1962] and Wagner’s Parsifal [50 Year Anniversaries: Konya, Dalis, Waechter, Tozzi in “Parsifal” – San Francisco Opera, September 12, 1964.]
The previous month Konya had been the Rodolfo to the Mimi of Renata Tebaldi [Historical Performances: “La Boheme” with Renata Tebaldi, Sandor Konya – San Francisco Opera, September 23, 1965].
Konya had also played the love interest of Leontyne Price’s characters in “Butterfly” [50 Year Anniversaries: Leontyne Price, Sandor Konya in “Madama Butterfly”: San Francisco Opera, September 28, 1961], “Aida” [50 Year Anniversaries: “Aida” with Price, Konya, Resnik, Shaw and Tozzi – San Francisco Opera, September 21, 1963] and “Forza” [Historical Performances: “Forza del Destino” with Leontyne Price, Konya, Wolansky – San Francisco Opera, October 9, 1965].
I will have more to say about the remaining cast (including Ramon Vinay, the Scarpia) in my discussion of the second “Tosca” performance with Collier and Thomas. I will also have more to say about Konya in my discussion of the new “Ballo in Maschera” production. My comments on the Conductor, Piero Bellugi, will appear in my discussion of a 1965 peformance of Rossini’s “Barber of Seville”.