Historical Performances: “Pelléas et Mélisande” with Pilar Lorengar, André Jobin, Thomas Stewart – San Francisco Opera, November 3, 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 sixteenth of sixteen such observances of performances from the company’s 1965 Fall season.

Having spent the previous weekend attending San Francisco Opera performances from first and fifth row center orchestra seats, I obtained a center box seat for the final new production of the Fall 1965, Debussy’s “Pelléas et Mélisande”.

This was the second and last 1965 War Memorial Opera House peformance of “Pelléas et Mélisande”, and was only the fourth in the history of the War Memorial (single performances having taken place in the 1938 and 1947 years). In later years (1969, 1979 and 1997) it achieved 14 more San Francisco Opera performances, but the opera has been absent from San Francisco Opera’s repertory for all of the 21st century to date.

This was only my fourth French opera, having seen San Francisco Opera perform Gounod’s “Faust” (my first ever opera, when I was in junior high school) and Bizet’s “Carmen”. I also saw a performance of Offenbach’s “The Tales of Hoffmann” in the Spring Opera Theater at the War Memorial.

Beginning in Spring 1966 with Ambroise Thomas’ “Mignon”, the War Memorial Opera House became an especially welcoming place for French opera for the remaining decade and a half of Kurt Herbert Adler’s general directorship. Much of the 1970s was devoted to the works of Jules Massenet, including such rarities as “Esclarmonde” and “Le Cid”.

Pilar Lorengar’s Mélisande

The Spanish soprano Pilar Lorengar’s distinctive voice and striking appearance both contributed for an elegant Mélisande.

Lorengar had sung six roles in 1964 and 1965, her first two seasons in San Francisco, including the Countess Almaviva in my first ever “Nozze di Figaro” [Historical Performances: “Nozze di Figaro” with Geraint Evans, Grist, Lorengar, Waechter – San Francisco Opera, October 3, 1964], my first live performance ever of Bizet’s “Carmen” [Historical Performances: Bizet’s “Carmen” with Regina Resnik, Jon Vickers and Pilar Lorengar – San Francisco Opera, October 9, 1964] and Liu in my first performance of Puccini’s “Turandot” [Historical Performances: “Turandot” with Birgit Nilsson, Franco Tagliavini, Lorengar, Tozzi – San Francisco Opera, October 22, 1964].

[Below: Spanish soprano Pilar Lorengar as Mélisande; edited image, based on a Maria De Monte photograph, courtesy of the San Franciso Opera Archives.]

This performance was Lorengar’s last appearance at the War Memorial for nine seasons. She returned in 1974 repeating Desdemona in Verdi’s “Otello” and adding Cio-Cio San in Puccini’s ‘Madama Butterfly” to her San Francisco Opera performance history. (In the latter role, she was reunited for one performance with her colleague Sandor Konya, also absent for nine seasons, although that was to be Konya’s sole post-1965 San Francisco Opera performance.) Lorengar also appeared in San Francisco’s 1979 season, towards the end of the Adler era.

As a personal favorite singer of Adler’s successor as San Francisco Opera general director, former record producer Terrence McEwen, Lorengar’s principal associations with the San Francisco Opera were arguably the McEwen years 1982 through 1988. Her last season at the War Memorial was 1989.

André Jobin’s Pelléas

The 22-year old Quebecois tenor André Jobin (son of the famous Raoul Jobin) was cast as Pelléas. He had a stylish, bright-sounding voice, used chiefly in operetta and comic opera. At age 20 he ventured into opera, assaying the role of Pelléas as his first major operatic role, only two years before his appearance at the San Francisco Opera.

[Below: French tenor André Jobin as Pelléas; edited image, based on a Maria de Monte photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera Archives.]

Although he added a few other classic French operatic roles, he continued to perform in classic musicals, most notably spending three years on the London stage, cast as Gaylord Ravenal in Kern’s “Show Boat”. He never returned to the San Francisco Opera, but left with a good impression, with a well-deserved ovation at opera’s end and very positive reviews from the San Francisco critics.

Thomas Stewart’s Golaud and Other Cast Members

The role of Golaud was entrusted to Texas baritone Thomas Stewart, whose three seasons at the San Francisco Opera beginning in 1962 had covered eight roles encompassing Mozart, Verdi, Gounod, Tchaikovsky and both Johann and Richard Strauss. (In future seasons Stewart would be enlisted for leading roles in Wagner’s “Ring of the Nibelungs”.)

[Below: Texas baritone Thomas Stewart as Golaud; edited image, based on a Dennis Galloway photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera Archives.]

Stewart’s sturdy baritone provided my introduction to the iconic role of Golaud. (Over the years of conversations with operatic baritones and bass-baritones, it seems that there is always more interest in adding the role of Golaud to their repertoire than there are performance opportunities.)

[Below: Golaud (Thomas Stewart, left) harbors suspicions about the fidelity of his wife, Mélisande (Pilar Lorengar, right); edited image, based on a Dennis Galloway photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera Archives.]

Maestro Jean Martinon and Orchestra

For the musical direction of new production of “Pelleas”, Adler persuaded Maestro Jean Martiinon, chief conductor for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to make his San Francisco Opera debut (his appearance for the company) for an authentic presentation of Debussy’s translucent orchestral score.

[Maestro Jean Martinon; edited image of a publicity photograph.]

Others in the cast included Claramae Turner as Geneviève, Thomas O’Leary as Arkel, Lucille Kailer as Yniold, Adib Fazah as a Shepherd and John West as a Doctor

The production was directed by Paul Hager with sets by Wolfram Skalicki.

This was my final San Francisco Opera performance of the 1965 fall season. For 1966, I purchased a subscription to the Spring Opera Theater [SPOT], which, in the mid-1960s, was held at the War Memorial Opera House itself, and arranged to move my Fall subscription from fifth row Orchestra center aisle, to the first row Orchestra, immediately to the Conductor’s left.