Sept. 23, 2017
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Our Lady of Sorrows: Brenda Rae’s Violetta.
Ken Howard

Summer’s Ending

With another lurking in the wings

August 27, 2013, 12:00 am
When Charles MacKay, general director of the Santa Fe Opera, stepped into the spotlight Aug. 19 just before the final La donna del lago of the season, the audience gasped a collective uh-oh. Who’d cancelled? Anxiety filled the house...

But nope. After a sly tease, MacKay revealed that the cast was eager to get on with it. He mainly remarked upon the unique occasion: the only time in 57 years that the company had added a performance due to overwhelming demand. He continued—so far this season 76,000 tickets had been sold, an unprecedented number, and that the company’s financial outlook for the season was very rosy indeed.

Vocally, it had been an equally top-of-the-line season, with Susan Graham, Joyce DiDonato, Lawrence Brownlee and David Daniels claiming their places among the starry divas and divos of the moment. Brenda Rae as Violetta made the season’s most memorable SFO debut. And after last season’s triumphant Maometto II and this year’s blazing La donna del lago, the company may be gaining a reputation as a Rossini house instead of a Strauss-haus. It’s always been Mozart-happy, and The Marriage of Figaro honored that tradition with a youthful, perfectly balanced cast. First among equals there? Lisette Oropesa’s Susanna and Emily Fons’ puckish Cherubino, both SFO debutantes.

Theodore Morrison’s first operatic venture, Oscar, got the SFO’s usual 24k production for a world premiere, but needs a script doctor before its 2015 Philadelphia outing. I nominate Stephen Frye. Offenbach’s beguiling score and the swell singing in The Grand Duchess of Gérolstein almost survived a knock’em-and-sock’em production, but I remain appalled by director Laurent Pelly’s La traviata, some fine voices notwithstanding.

Still, prospects for ’14 remain enticing, including another Pelly-directed confection (his gift for comic opera well on display, we hope), Don Pasquale. Big news for next year continues to be the arrival of Harry Bicket as the company’s chief conductor following his predecessor’s hasty departure a year ago. Bicket will be on the podium for the SFO’s first-ever Fidelio in a production, hints MacKay, closer than most to what Beethoven’s audience might have heard in 1814.

All six operas next year will be new productions, including Carmen, the US premiere of Huang Ruo’s Dr. Sun Yat-sen, and a provocative double-bill of Mozart’s The Impresario and Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol.

It’s probably presumptuous to comment on the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival’s 41st season since I could only make it to a dozen programs out of the 40 concerts on offer. But then, I’m no stranger to presumption. The Orion Quartet’s insightful finesse got the nod here last week. Their Schumann, not to be excessively repetitious, rocked.

Please note also that it’s not just mad dogs and Englishmen who fill the noonday pews at the SFCMF’s St. Francis Auditorium offerings. Usually sell-outs, usually lasting something just over an hour, this year’s five-part piano series included Soyeon Kate Lee on July 18 with a probing, agonized account of Janáček’s Sonata, “Z ulice, 1.X.1905.”

Other highlights of the festival’s noon pianistic pleasures: Jeremy Denk’s personal take on the “Goldberg Variations,” and a Schubert-y program by Shai Wosner that included a fascinating brief commentary on the composer in Jörg Widmann’s “Idyll and Abyss: Six Schubert Reminiscences.” Add to these Garrick Ohlsson’s world premiere performance of Michael Hersch’s gut-wrenching portrait of inconsolable grief, “Tenebrae.”

The Really Big Show of the season, Aug. 4 and 5, featured singers Matthew Worth and Lucy Shelton in top-notch readings of, respectively, Mahler’s “Songs of a Wayfarer” and Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire.” Conductor Lawrence Foster led a largish instrumental ensemble in, again respectively, a powerful and a shattering performance—brilliant program, brilliantly realized.

Next summer, we look forward to Ligeti’s Trio for Horn, Violin and Piano; Martinů’s jolly, jazzy suite from his ballet, La Revue de Cuisine; Messiaen’s indispensable “Quartet for the End of Time,” plus, of course, the usual suspects.

So, to butcher Shelley—“If summer ends, can another summer be far behind?” It sure can’t. Just watch this space.


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