Since the year 2006, I have reviewed each of the opera productions mounted by the San Francisco Opera in the War Memorial Opera House, providing each with a letter grade.
As a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemics, all of the War Memorial Opera House performances scheduled in 2020 and in the first seven months of 2021 had to be canceled. Performances resumed in late August, 2021, under comprehensive public health protocols, that included proof of vaccination against Covid-19 and mask-wearing during the performances.
Like the seminars associated with Ph.D. programs, I do not grade “on a curve”, but, instead expect that a San Francisco Opera performance of any opera, like a seminar grade for a doctoral student, should be an “A”. In those cases in which I believe the performance was of more than routine interest (and excellence) I give an A+. In previous calendar years, I have given grades as low as a “C”, but in the most recent years, “B” and “C” grades have been rare.
(I do not use the performance review to discuss whether the company’s management should have chosen a different opera, different director, or different cast, but review whatever opera performances the company has chosen to present.)
Based on these criteria, these are the ratings for 2020 and 2021:
Puccini’s “Tosca” has deep historical links with the San Francisco Opera’s War Memorial Opera House, being the opera chosen for the 1932 opening of the opera house, and for its re-opening after two disasters, the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake and the 2020-21 Covid-19 pandemic, forced its closure over lengthy periods.
An illustrious cast was chosen for the War Memorial’s Fall 2021 reopening, led by Illinois soprano Ailyn Pérez’ impressive role debut as Tosca. New Jersey tenor Michael Fabiano added the role of Mario Cavaradossi to his San Francisco Opera triumphs, as did Alfred Walker as the Baron Scarpia.
I reviewed the fifth and final performance, which included a surprise event during final curtain calls when the bass-baritone performing the Angelotti (Soloman Howard) proposed marriage to the Tosca (Ailyn Pérez) who accepted the proposal with the entire San Francisco Opera audience as witnesses.
[Below: Soloman Howard, who performed the role of Angelotti, proposed marriage to Ailyn Pérez, who performed the role of Tosca, as Michael Fabiano, who performed the role of Mario Cavaradossi applauds, during the final curtain calls of the closing performance; edited image, based on an audience photograph.]
Maestra Eun Sun Kim conducted, in her first assignment as assuming the role of San Francisco Opera Music Director.
[For my performance review, see: Review: Ailyn Pérez , Michael Fabiano, Alfred Walker, Soloman Howard Excel in a Memorable “Tosca” (with a Post-Finale Surprise) – San Francisco Opera, September 5, 2021.]
South African soprano Elza van den Heever returned to the San Francisco Opera for the first time in 14 seasons, to take on the lead role in a new Michael Ozawa production of Beethoven’s “Fidelio”. Massive sets were created for the production by Andrew Nichols to give the appearance of a contemporary prison.
[Below: the Andrew Nichols set for the prison where Fidelio (Elza van den Heever, halfway up of bottom staircase) and Marzelline (Anne-Marie Mackintosh) top level, right, in blue dress) work; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
Russell Thomas was Fidelio’s husband, Florestan. Greer Grimsley was the villainous Don Pizzaro and James Creswell the Jailer Rocco. Maestra Eun Sun Kim conducted. Anne-Marie Mackintosh and Christopher Oglesby were respectively Marzelline and Jacquino.
[For my performance review, see: Review: Beethoven’s “Fidelio”, An Excellent Cast for Matthew Ozawa’s Powerful Production – San Francisco Opera, October 17, 2021.]
Cosi fan Tutte (Mozart)
In 2019, a San Francisco Opera Michael Cavanagh production of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” initiated a trio of new Cavanagh productions of Mozart operas with libretti by Lorenzo da Ponte. The second in the series is this production of “Cosi fan Tutte”.
Each of the three productions (which include “Don Giovanni”, scheduled for June 2022) take place in a American Colonial-era mansion – “Figaro” around the American Revolution and “Cosi” in the 1930s when the house has been repurposed as a country club. The “Don Giovanni” will take place in the future.
[Below: Despina (Nicole Heaston, standing) is determined to prove that the sisters Dorabella (Irene Roberts, seated left) and Fiordiligi (Nicole Cabell, seated right) will succumb to the seductions of their new suitors; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
The “Cosi fan Tutte” sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella were sung respectively by Nicole Cabell and Irene Roberts, their suitors Ferrando and Guglielmo by Ben Bliss and John Brancy. The schemers determined to unsettle the romantic relationships that existed at the opera’s beginning were Ferruccio Furlanetto’s Don Alfonso and Nicole Heaston’s Despina.
The excellent singing, orchestral performance under Maestro Henrik Nánási, stage action, scenic design and costume all contributed to a spectacular performance.
[For my performance review, see: Review: “Cosi fan Tutte” – Nicely Sung, Imaginatively Staged – San Francisco Opera, November 21, 2021
These are the operas performed (and my grades) in the San Francisco Opera seasons of calendar years 2006 through 2019: