San Diego, CA—It’s hard to believe that the San Diego Opera will be beginning its 48th International season in January, the 26th to be exact. As a long time opera aficionado, I couldn’t be happier and for several reasons not the least being the choices Artistic Director Ian Campbell has made for this year’s audience appreciation.
If you’ve never heard the famous 9 high C’s (often called the Mt. Everest for tenors, “Ah! mes amis, quell jour de fête”) sung by any noted tenor ‘round the world, hold on to your hat’s because this year, kicking off the 1213 season is Donizetti’s comedy/ satire Daughter of the Regiment featuring American tenor Stephen Costello, so effective as Faust in 2011, will be doing just that. This year Slovakian Soprano L’úbica Vargicová (she was last seen as Gilda in our 2009 production of Rigoletto) returns to San Diego in the role of Marie, the long lost daughter of…well, that’s the mystery and the fun of it.
And this is her opera. You see a regiment of soldier’s (ego, The Daughter of the Regiment) adopted an orphaned young girl whom they found on a battlefield when she was very young. She is now a regular fixture in the 21st Regiment of Grenadier accompanying them during their skirmishes. They raised her and look after her as one of their own.
Unbeknownst to them Marie falls in love with the handsome peasant Tonio (Costello) a young man whom she claims had once saved her life and who is now being held prisoner by the soldiers for hanging around the camp. After much pleading by Marie, the soldiers let him go but not before he tells the brigade that he wants to marry Marie.
The Marquise of Birkenfeld, Polish contralto Ewa Podles, in whose care she is placed, is not satisfied with the relationship between Marie and Tonio. She whisks Marie away from the regiment and takes her to her grand chateau teaching her ‘ladylike’ manners, dancing and singing lessons. Eventually arrangements have been made to marry her off to the rich Duke of Krakenthorp, whose mother is our own Carol Vaness in the speaking role of the Duchess of Krankenthorp.
In the meantime, in order to be close to Marie, Tonio enlists in the regiment. Not swayed, the Marquise is still set on Marie marrying money and will do anything to keep the young lovers apart. But as in most comic opera’s happy endings abide. With the help of the good natured Sergeant Sulpice (Italian bass Donato DiStefano) and the rest of the regiment Marie and Tonio escape the grips of her mentor and we suppose, live happily ever after.
Toronto born conductor, Yves Able along with stage director Emiio Sagi make their San Diego Opera debut bringing with them the production Sagi created for Teatro Comunale di Bologna.
Camille Saint-Saëns Samson and Delilah, last seen in 2007 will open on Saturday Feb. 16th. San Diego’s resident conductor Karen Keltner, who has been with the company since 1982 will be at the helm of this huge ambitious biblical production recapturing the drama of the Hebrew warrior and strong man Samson (American tenor Clifton Forbis) who is seduced and later betrayed by the alluring and beautiful Philistine temptress Delilah (Bulgarian mezzo- soprano Nadia Krasteva).
The opera opens with lamentations of subjugation of the Hebrews by the Philistines and Samson’s revenge killing of Abimelech, (Mikhail Svetlov) a Philistine satrap. Delilah vows revenge by winning Samson’s heart. With that as its backdrop, beautiful duets, trios, sensuous dances with tambourines giving exotic color and dark forewarnings of what’s to come, Saint-Saëns’ opera follows Samson’s plight.
As Samson prays for protection from the wiles of Delilah she sings her enchanting song, ‘Printemps qui commence’. It’s the beginning of the end for Samson, and Delilah knows it. His admission of his love for her ‘Je t’aime!’ sets the stage for her main aria, the best known piece in the opera, ‘Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix’.
With direction by Lesley Koenig, and sets and costumes from The San Francisco Opera designed by Douglas Schmidt (sets) and Carrie Robbins (costumes), lighting designer Gary Marder and choreography by Kenneth von Heidecke this second production will be nothing less than spectacular.
Two lesser known but important nonetheless are West Cost Premiere’s of Cruzar la Cara de la Luna (To Cross the Face of the Moon) and Murder in the Cathedral by Ildebrando Pizzetti. ‘Cathedral’ is a verse drama based on T.S. Eliot’s play portraying the assassination of Archbishop Thomas Becket as he defends his church against the King. It takes place in and around Canterbury Cathedral, 12.02.1170 the day the Archbishop Thomas Becket returned to England and twenty-seven days before he is murdered by four of Henry II knights.
Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto will be singing the part of Thomas Becket. The score is highlighted with strong male and female choruses with Susan Neves and Helene Schneiderman as the lead women and American tenor Allan Glassman and American tenor Sorensen as Herald and First Templar/First Knight. La Scala’s Donato Renzetti will be conducting.
On an entirely different note, General Director Ian Campbell has announced a special event Cruzar La Cara de la Luna or (To Cross The Face of the Moon) composed by Jose “Pepe” Martinez and lyrics by Jose “Pepe” Martinez and Leonard Foglia. The semi-staged production will feature ‘the worlds finest and first mariachi opera’. This bi-lingual work follows three generations of a single family spanning countries, cultures and customs moving back and forth in time.
The one hundred year old mariachi band, commissioned by the Houston Grand opera stars the highly acclaimed 14 member Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán. Clocking in at 75 minutes, it is a one-act production in Spanish with English subtitles and is directed by Leonard Foglia who was so persuasive in last year’s Moby Dick.
Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán will be presented for two special performance on March 16th and is open to all those interested. (Matinee and evening)
April 20, 23, 26 and 28 (matinee) wraps up the season with the biggie of the year, Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida featuring the dramatic and imaginative costume and set designs by Zandra Rhodes. Ms. Rhodes designed the costumes for the Magic Flute in 2001 and the 2004 production of The Pearl Fishers. This enormous undertaking, I’m convinced, will stand out in everyone’s mind. After having seen an exhibit of her sketches for this opera earlier this year, you will agree. They are stunning. (I could kick myself for not purchasing one at that time).
Heading the all-star cast of Verdi’s magnificent grand opera is American soprano Latonia Moore as Aida, conquered Ethiopian (princess) now servant to Amneris (American mezzo-soprano Jill Grove) daughter of the King of Egypt. Aida’s father Amonsaro the king of Ethiopia, also captured in this recent battle between the Egyptians and Ethiopians, will be sung by American baritone Mark S. Dos. Italian tenor Walter Fraccaro is Radames the conquering hero of Egypt and love object to Amneris. Their love and the ensuing tragedy of it, is a love triangle of major proportions.
As a love story every gut wrenching emotion is involved. But it’s the magnificent arias, (“Celeste Aida”) majestic marches, (“Marcia trionfale or Triumphal March”/ along with a seductive ballet) a spectacularly huge chorus, eight principals, sixteen dancers, over fifty supers and the absolute glorious music of Verdi’s all under the baton of Italian conductor Daniele Callegari with Andrew Sinclair directing that will grab at the heartstring.
A few years ago I had the privilege of seeing Aida performed at the foot of Masada where one hundred twenty choristers and a 40 member Bedouin dance troupe from Rahat and Arad, with Jean-Chares’ Gil’s choreography, performed the Act II Triumphal March.
But be it in Israel, San Diego, Los Angeles or New York there is nothing like a Verdi opera. Neither a live caravan of camels off on the distant trails at the foot of Masada nor giant look alike animal facsimile can ever take the excitement away from being a part of yet another performance of Aida.
This does prove to be an exciting year in opera for San Diego opera lovers.
See you at the opera.
Dates: Check web site for all dates
Organization: San Diego Opera
Where: 1200 Third Avenue, San Diego, CA 92101
Ticket Prices: Check Box office
Venue: All performance at the Civic Theatre Downtown