Historical Performances: “Barber of Seville” with Meneguzzer, Blankenburg, Vinay, Trama – San Francisco Opera, October 24, 1965

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 thirteenth of sixteen such observances of performances from the company’s 1965 Fall season.

Less than 15 hours after the conclusion of the Saturday night San Francisco Opera performance of Richard Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos” [Historical Performances: “Ariadne auf Naxos” with Hillebrecht, Thomas, Grist, Vanni – San Francisco Opera, October 23, 1965], I was back at the War Memorial Opera House for a Sunday matinee performance of Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” – my first Sunday matinee performance ever, sitting in a first row orchestra seat just the left of Maestro Piero Bellugi.

Three members of the “Ariadne” cast had also returned to the War Memorial, each to perform in the lead “Barber” roles. The Saturday night Arlecchino, California baritone Heinz Blankenburg, became the Sunday Figaro; the Brighella, British tenor Alexander Young, became Count Almaviva; and the Naiad, Italian lyric coloratura Jolanda Meneguzzer, became the Rosina. The “Barber” revival was directed by Matthew Farruggio, his second Fall season assignment after “Tosca”.

The cast was rounded out by Chilean baritone Ramon Vinay as Doctor Bartolo, Italian basso Ugo Trama as Don Basilio and California mezzo-soprano Claramae Turner as the maid Berta.

In the 1965 season at the War Memorial Opera House, there were three performances of “Barber”. Three of the cast members (Young as Almaviva, Vinay as Bartolo and Trama as Basilio) sang all three. For the third performance there were cast changes for the roles of Rosina (Jolanda Meneguzzer replacing Reri Grist), Figaro (Heinz Blankenburg replacing Richard Fredricks) and Berta (Claramae Turner replacing Sona Cervena).

[Below: Figaro (here, Richard Fredricks, left) encourages Rosina (here, Reri Grist, right) to pursue her romantic inclinations; edited image, based on a Pete Peters photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera Archives.]

Jolanda Meneguzzer’s Rosina, Heinz Blankenburg’s Figaro and Alexander Young’s Almaviva

I found the performance to be thoroughly engaging. I had seen Meneguzzer in a couple of comprimario roles. I had also had been at performances of her Zerlina in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” on two previous occasions (1962 and 1965 seasons), and would see her repeat Zerlina later that week. However, it was the role of Rosina that allowed me to truly experience the full range of Meneguzzer’s vocal and acting abilities, including the charm of her comic timing.

I had been an admirer of baritone Heinz Blankenburg in such roles as Paolo in Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” and Arleccino in “Ariadne auf Naxos”. Like Rosina, the role of Figaro provides abundant opportunity for one to get the measure of an artist.

[Below: California tenor Heinz Blankenburg, here as Figaro in a 1967 Hamburg State Opera performance of Mozart’s “Der Hochzeit des Figaro”; edited image, based on a frame from a video on youtube.com.]

My one reservation in what I regarded as an excellent cast was the Alexander Young’s Almaviva. There was no question that Young was a fine artist, who sang at the San Francisco Opera only during the 1965 season. For me, Young’s performance was light on Almaviva’s lusty energy, that should propel the action in this best-known of operatic comedies.

[Below: British lyric tenor Alexander Young was Count Almaviva; edited image, based on a publicity photograph.]

Ramon Vinay’s Doctor Bartolo and Ugo Trama’s Don Basilio

In yet another 1965 season example – possibly the most memorable – of former heldentenor Ramon Vinay’s successful foray into the baritone repertory, Vinay proved a hilarious and fussy Doctor Bartolo, delivering the goods in Bartolo’s great aria A un dottor della mia sorte.

Ugo Trama’s deep basso voice lent gravitas to the role of Guardiano in “Forza del Destino” [Historical Performances: “Forza del Destino” with Leontyne Price, Konya, Wolansky – San Francisco Opera, October 9, 1965], but it was Trama’s comedic skills with which his San Francisco Opera appearances (limited to the 1965 and 1968 season) are most associated.

[Below: Don Basilio (Ugo Trama, left) suggests to Doctor Bartolo (Ramon Vinay, right) that the most effective way to deal with a rival is to invent false rumors about him to be spread around; edited image, based on a Pete Peters photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera Archives.]

Trama had brought charm and spirit to the role of Leporello [Historical Performances: “Don Giovanni” with Leontyne Price’s Donna Anna – San Francisco Opera, October 15, 1965] in a pair of “Giovannis” earlier in the season. He was also enlisted for a very funny, vocally first rate Don Basilio, which he sang in all three “Barber” performances.

[Below: Ugo Trama as Don Basilio; edited image, based on a Pete Peters photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

The 1965 “Barber” Rosinas, General Director Kurt Herbert Adler and Maestro Piero Bellugi

Two lyric coloratura sopranos – the Italian Jolanda Meneguzzer and the American Reri Grist – shared the role of Rosina in San Franciso Opera’s 1965 season.

I have been fortunate to have interviewed both of them and believe their own recollections of their appearances at the San Francisco Opera in the mid-1960s [see A Star Among Legends: A Conversation with Coloratura Soprano Reri Grist and A Conversation with Lyric-Leggiero Soprano Jolanda Meneguzzer] have documentary interest.

First, Grist and Meneguzzer both enunciated their respect for General Director Kurt Herbert Adler. Grist stated: “I was very fond of Adler and had great respect for him. I know that he had his tantrums, but he was knowledgeable about opera and had a great respect for anyone who gave all he or she had to offer.”

I can’t resist quoting extensively from my posted conversation with Signora Meneguzzer, about the morning that Kurt Herbert Adler allowed Jolanda Meneguzzer to see a not well-known facet of of his personality, so different from “his tantrums”:

“Colleagues and company personnel knew of my desire to visit Disneyland. After my debut in Los Angeles, Maestro Adler who is always so stern, with a hint of a smile said, ‘You were good. Let’s go to Disneyland tomorrow morning, provided that no one knows’.” The next morning I found a car waiting outside the hotel. It was an amazing day. It was like I was in the company of a fun, smiling young man, so different from the gruff maestro!

We were two carefree kids having innocent fun. We tried all the rides, saw and bought the colorful gadgets that were offered us. Then the Maestro returned  the same as always, a little distant and very serious, with no confidences. I had earned an award. It was my prize!”

Maestro Bellugi, whose friendship was so important to the career of the San Francisco Opera’s Music Director Nicola Luisotti (2009 through 2017/8) [see A Maestro of Music and Metaphor: An Interview with Nicola Luisotti] only conducted at the San Francisco Opera during the 1965 season.

However, Meneguzzer, in her conversation, provided me with a charming story about Maestro Bellugi. She said: “I cherish my memories of Maestro Bellugi. He had been a great friend with whom I always worked with a lot of enthusiasm. He was a man who sought refuge in a world of his own, far away from reality.

“I remember once, in San Francisco, that we were staying in apartments very close to each other. He came to my door, desperate because he could not find the telephone, I found that he had closed the phone in the refrigerator, where it had been confined because it rang too often, disturbing the Master who had to study.

“He was a great musician, gifted and refined, without a doubt in my mind of all the conductors with whom I have worked, none was with more pleasure, though I like to remember working with other names such as Claudio Abbado, Antonino Votto, and Tullio Serafin.”