I had the full opera experience yesterday, but I had to come home to the San Francisco Opera to find it. All over San Francisco are signs announcing the return of the divas, a trio of graduates from San Francisco's own Merola program: Ruth Ann Swenson, Patricia Racette and Dolora Zajick.
Apparently the golden age has returned. Pamela Rosenberg is out, David Gockley is in, Pamela's logo--the word "Opera" peeking out through a triangular window--that offended so many people, is gone, replaced by a tasteful asterisk. Pamela Rosenberg brought in singers from Germany, and American singers virtually disappeared from the roster. It's nice to see them back.
Gockley is a different kind of Impresario, one with very strong populist leanings. He broadcast live a performance of Madame Butterfly into the Civic Center Plaza and over 8000 people showed up to watch. In the program next to one of the subscriber lists appear the words, "The desire to be the most exciting force in the opera world...." To reach you must first aspire. Welcome, Mr. Gockley, and god bless the San Francisco Opera.
Tchaikovsky's The Maid of Orleans, presented in Russian, was a new opera for me. Tchaikovsky was his own librettist, and the flaws in the opera lie primarily in the libretto. In the first half we see the familiar story of the woman who hears the virgin telling her to save France. She arms herself, takes up a battlefield banner and leads France to victory over the English.
In the second half our miraculous, transforming heroine is stopped dead in her tracks by love, and changes before our eyes into a guilt ridden, impotent whiner. This is hard to accept. I was taught that she was brought down by betrayal and maintained her commitment to the end. Tchaikovsky appears to have been intimidated by this female avenging angel and cripled her in his version. It's sad.
Dolora Zajick was glorious. I have followed her career since I saw her on television with Pavarotti in Il Trovatore. She is awesomely powerful in her call to arms. I was temporarily confused when she is singing her farewell to her homeland in Russian, and an aria I knew as 'Adieu Forêt' came out. Apparently I am not yet senile.
I thought I recognized the singer in the role of Agnes Sorel. The face and the voice were familiar for she is my favorite recent Merola graduate, Karen Slack. Her website is full of quotes from my review of her Schwabacher Debut recital. I really loved her. Agnes is a perfect small role for her gorgeous lyric-spinto voice, only one of a vast number of opera roles she could sing. She needs to improve her physical conditioning. I continue to predict great things for Karen.
It was the full exciting, emotional, stunning opera experience.