Historical Performances: Geraint Evans, Stuart Burrows, Jane Marsh Welcome “The Magic Flute” into the San Francisco Opera repertory – September 23, 1967 and October 8, 1967

I previously reported on a June 1967 performance I attended during the San Francisco Opera’s Spring Opera Theater [SPOT]. Between that June SPOT performance [Historical Review: Nicholas di Virgilio, Simon Estes Lead Impressive Cast in “Tales of Hoffmann” San Francisco Opera’s Spring Opera Theater [SPOT] – June 23, 1967] and the September 1967 opening of the San Francisco Opera’s main season, the City was in the midst of the historic “Summer of Love”, the “hippie invasion” of a hundred thousand “flower children”.

The opera companes’ repertory choices, of course, were determined independently of the Summer of Love, but if Spring Opera Theater’s Hoffmann were to despair of his four unsuccessful love affairs in one opera, the Fall season brought new productions of operas in which true love prevails, Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore” and Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”

In September 1967, the San Francisco Opera’s Fall season opened with Ponchielli’s “:La Gioconda”, but my first scheduled performance of the season was the second performance of a new Toni Businger production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”.

For the 1967, I held subscriptions for both the Saturday night and Sunday matinee series. Accordingly I chose to attend both the September 23 (Saturday) and October 8 (Sunday) performances. There were no cast or other changes, so this report refers to both.

Although it was the second “Flute” performance of the 1967 season, it was only the fourth main season “Flute” performance in the then 44 year history of the San Francisco Opera. (SPOT had performed three additional performances of “The Magic Flute” in a Vincent Porcaro production between the two main season performances in 1950 and the new Businger production in 1967.)

[Below: Geraint Evans as Papageno; edited image, based on a Robert Cahen photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera Archives.]

The new Businger production was performed in English.

Geraint Evans’ Papageno

In the eight seasons since his 1960 San Francisco Opera debut, Welsh bass-baritone Geraint Evans had become an invaluable member of the company’s roster, performing roles as varied as Leporello in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”, Sixtus Beckmesser in Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger”and the title roles of Verdi’s “Falstaff” and Berg’s “Wozzeck”.

Evans possessed the dramatic skills and vocal presence to make a powerful impression in a role like Wozzeck. Evans’ comic instincts were equally well-honed. Always engaging when an opera’s score calls for a character he was playing to be the center of audience attention, his characterizations of Leporello, Falstaff and Beckmesser could steal any scene.

An essential ingredient of the opera company’s new commitment to Mozart’s final opera was to enlist Evans as Papageno, the character with whom most audience members relate. As the birdcatcher Papageno, Evans met the company’s expectations with an endearingly spontaneous performance. The role allowed him to break the “fourth wall”, with hilarious asides to the audience.

[Bekow: Papageno (Geraint Evans, left) enters into a conversation with Pamina (Jane Marsh, right); edited image, based on a Hank Kranzler photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera Archives.]

This was the eighth different role that I saw Evans perform, each one surrounded by many of the greatest opera stars of the 1960s, after his Paolo [Historical Performances: “Simon Boccanegra” with Tito Gobbi, Giorgio Tozzi – San Francisco Opera, October 6, 1960], Sixtus Beckmesser [Historical Performances: Schoeffler, Della Casa, Uhl, Geraint Evans in “Die Meistersinger” – San Francisco Opera, October 21, 1961], Wozzeck [Historical Performances: Geraint Evans, Marilyn Horne, Richard Lewis in “Wozzeck” at San Francisco Opera – September 15, 1962], Falstaff [Historical Performances: “Falstaff” with Evans, Simionato, Stewart – San Francisco Opera, October 11, 1962], Leporello [Historical Performances: “Don Giovanni” with Tozzi, De Los Angeles, Schwarzkopf, Evans and Lewis in Zeffirelli’s Production – San Francisco Opera, October 20, 1962], Figaro [Historical Performances: “Nozze di Figaro” with Geraint Evans, Grist, Lorengar, Waechter – San Francisco Opera, October 3, 1964 and Historical Performances: “Nozze di Figaro” with Geraint Evans, Reri Grist, Claire Watson and Thomas Stewart – San Francisco Opera – October 29, 1966] and Don Pizarro [Historical Performances: Birgit Nilsson, Jon Vickers, Geraint Evans in “Fidelio” – San Francisco Opera, October 17, 1964]

Stuart Burrows’ Tamino and Jane Marsh’s Pamina

Although I thoroughly enjoyed the antics of the evening’s birdcatcher, the artists that most impressed me were Welsh lyric tenor Stuart Burrows as Tamino and American soprano Jane Marsh as Pamina.

Early in the opera, Burrows, in his San Francisco Opera debut season, sang Tamino’s great aria Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön, revealing a superbly controlled, beautifully formed lyric tenor.

Burrows was not only a fellow countryman of Evans, the two artists both grew up in the same block of a small Welsh town. In addition to being my first Tamino, Burrows would return in later seasons, including performing my first Lensky in Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” and my first Leicester in Donizetti’s “Maria Stuarda”.

[Below: Stuart Burrows, left, is Tamino and Jane Marsh right, is Pamina; edited image, based on a Robert Cahen photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera Archives]

San Francisco Opera’s General Director Kurt Herbert Adler was famous for identifying major operatic voices early in artists’ careers, and for giving opportunities for singers who had only limited professional experience in vocal performances.

California soprano Jane Marsh stands out among the many artists to whose successful operatic careers Adler contributed. She was a graduate of a high school in nearby Marin County, and of Oberlin College’s prestigious music program.

Adler cast Marsh, at age 23, for her American opera debut, in the principal role of Pamina in the new production. A highlight of Marsh’s youthful Pamina was her aria Ach ich fühl’s, sung with a attractive vibrato, that revealed the vocal control requisite of a successful singer of Mozart’s operas

[Below: a dressing room photograph of Soprano Jane Marsh, following her American opera debut in the opening 1967 performance of “The Magic Flute”; edited image of a (San Rafael, California) Daily Independent Journal photograph.]


Even the extraordinary achievement of Marsh’s Pamina was preceded by other incomparable experiences. At age 21, Marsh performed the role of Desdemona in Verdi’s “Otello” at Gian Carlo Menotti’s Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, in a performances that were both directed and conducted by Maestro Thomas Schippers.

Most notably, in the previous year, she became the gold prize winner in the very first competition held in the female vocal category in Moscow’s quadrennial International Tchaikovsky Festival. That honor was recognized at a White House ceremony led by President Lyndon Johnson.

[Below: After successfully completing their trials, Tamino (fStuart Burrows, front left) and Pamina (Jane Marsh, front right) receive the blessing of Sarastro (Thomas O’Leary, standing behind Tamino’s and Pamina’s clasped hands); edited image, based on a Robert Cahen photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera Archives.]

Jeanette Scovotti’s Queen of the Night and Thomas O’Leary’s Sarastro

New York Coloratura soprano Jeannette Scovotti performed the vocal fireworks associated with the Queen of the Night’s two arias.

Scovotti had previously performed with San Francisco Opera’s Spring Opera Theater [SPOT] in 1962 as Blonde in Mozart’s “Abduction from the Seraglio”. She had appeared in principal coloratura roles in the New York Metropolitan Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago. Scovotti had also performed in Broadway productions (and participated in recordings of) DePaul’s and Mercer’s L’il Abner (as part of the ensemble) and in a small role in Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s The King and I

Although the 1967 season was the only main San Francisco Opera season in which Scovotti performed, she would appear later that season in Schuller’s “The Visitation” and as Musetta in the production of Puccini’s “La Boheme” in which Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti made his San Francisco Opera debut.

[Below: Soprano Jeannette Scovotti; edited image of a publicity photograph.]

The role of Sarastro was performed by Thomas O’Leary. The bass had previously performed two seasons prior as the Commendatore in Mozart’s “Don GIovanni”, Arkel in Debussy’s “Pelleas et Melisande” and Pogner in Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger”.

[Below: Thomas O’Leary (left) as Sarastro; edite dimate, based on a Hank Kranzler photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera Archives.]

Robert Glover’s Monostatos, Sylvia Davis’ Papagena and Other Cast Members

The role of Monostatos was performed by Robert Glover, who was outstanding in the almost always hilarious scene in which Papageno and Monostatos are frightened of each others’ appearance.

In the latter half of the 1960s, Robert Glover sang many of the “character” tenor and baritone roles in both San Francisco Opera’s main seasons and its Spring Opera Theater. He sang in back to back Toni Businger productions: Prince Yamadori in Businger’s 1966 new production of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” as well as well as Monostatos. In the most recent opera performance I had attended that year (SPOT’s “Tale of Hoffmann”, referenced above), Glover had performed the four “villain’s assistant” roles – Andrès, Cochenille, Pittichinaccio and Franz.

[Photo: Monostatos (Robert Glover, right) comes upon the sleeping Pamina (Jane Marsh, left); edited image, based on a Hank Krantzler photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera Archives.]

A fellow “Hoffmann” cast member of Glover’s, soprano Sylvia Davis, who performed the role of the doomed Antonia in Offenbach’s masterpiece, was “The Magic Flute’s” Papagena. Davis’ “Flute” role would have a happier end than Antonia, becoming the enthusiastic girlfriend of Evans’ Papageno.

[Below: Sylvia Davis as Papagena; edited image, based on a Robert Cahen photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera Archives.]


The Queen of the Night’s Three Ladies, who save Tamino from a monstrous snake, were performed by Shiela Marks, Carol Kirkpatrick and Donna Petersen. The Speaker was Ara Berberian. The Priests were David Clements and Allan Monk. Rod MacWherter and Clifford Grant were the Two Armored Men.

[Below: the three ladies, Shiela Marks, Carol Kirkpatrick and Donna Petersen; edited image, based on a Hank Kranzler photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera Archives.]

Maestro Horst Stein and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus

German conductor Horst Stein led the san Francisco Opera Orchestra in a brilliant performance. Maestro Stein was closely associated with the Wagnerian repertory and would oversee the musical performances of new productions of “Tristan und Isolde” and “Das Rheingold” later in the season.

I had first observed the conducting of Maestro Stein in his San Francisco Opera debut assignment [Historical Performances: “Ariadne auf Naxos” with Hillebrecht, Thomas, Grist, Vanni – San Francisco Opera, October 23, 1965]. In the subsequent season Stein conducted three operas. The first of these, Richard Strauss’ “Elektra: [Historical Performances – Deep Casting, Siercke’s Set Design, Result in A Brilliant “Elektra”, San Francisco Opera, September 24, 1966] was cited in an operawarhorses.com feature by my colleague [Arthur Bloomfield’s Blazing Batons: Looking In On Robert Heger 1886-1978] as “underrated” and the “author of the most lyrical Richard Strauss Elektra in [Bloomfield’s] experience”.

Towards the end of the 1966 season, Stein had conducted operas of both Wagner [Historical Performances: Jess Thomas’ “Tannhäuser” with Régine Crespin, Janis Martin and Thomas Stewart – San Francisco Opera, October 22, 1966 and Mussorgsky Historical Performances: “Boris Godunov” – San Francisco Opera, October 23, 1966].

Toni Businger’s Production

When the San Francisco Opera made the decision to invest in the new Toni Businger production, it was a persuasive commitment to an operatic masterpiece to which the company had given only the briefest of attention in its 44 year history. Businger’s production, like his 1966 season’s new production of “Madama Butterfly” [Historical Performances: Dorothy Kirsten Leads “Butterfly” Cast for San Francisco Opera’s New Production, November 13, 1966] was colorful and filled with arresting images.

[Below: the setting for the entrance of the Queen of the Night; edited image, based on a Robert Cahen photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera Archives.]

Businger’s sets were complemented by the production’s costumes, including the vividly colorful images created for the Evans’ Papageno and Davis’ Papagena.

[Below: Papagena (Sylvia Davis, left) enchants Papageno (Geraint Evans, right); edited image, based on a Robert Cahen photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera Archives.]

Although Businger had established himself in the Swiss opera houses of Zurich, Geneva and Bern, the productions he created for San Francisco Opera when he was still in his early 30s – the 1966 “Madama Butterfly” and, especially, the 1967 “Magic Flute” – that led to international recognition of his creativity.

[Below: Swiss Set and Costume designer Toni Businger; edited image of a 2019 obituary photograph in Badener Tagblatt.]

These productions were two of four he created for the San Francisco Opera. He later would be enlisted for new productions in 1969 of Verdi’s “La Traviata” (originally conceived for Maria Callas’ long-postponed but ultimately never realized San Francsico Opera debut) and in 1974 of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”.

[Below: Sarastro (Thomas O’Leary center) in conversation with the priests of his order; edited image, based on a Hank Kranzler photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera Archives.] ]

It proved fortunate for all that Toni Businger chose San Francisco Opera as the place where he could be part of a “Summer of Love”.