Opera Scene – By John Patrick Ford

The grand opera program for San Diego Opera’s 2016-2017 season is diverse for selecting a common theme. Each opera is so different, I can only come up with a general topic that fits all three of the grand opera group. Borrowing from Andrew Lloyd Webber, I chose “Aspects of Love.”

That is the name of a show that debuted in London in 1989 but never acquired the success of his earlier shows. It had a limited run on Broadway and a UK tour in 2007. I saw the show in London in 1990 and thought it was worthy of more acclaim.

So how does the SDO program relate to “aspects of love”? In the Lloyd Webber musical, the storyline follows the types of love a man experiences as he matures. In the beginning there is his parental love, followed by his first romantic love and later a new kind of love by discovery.

The three aspects of love in the 2016-2017 season are a similar comparison of the different kinds of love. In the opening production of “La Cenerentola,” the dispossessed Cinderella finds romantic love and her Prince Charming. The second production, “Falstaff” reflects the frivolous love affairs of a comical knight who is a woman chaser and often ends his quest as the fool. The tragic romance of Violetta in the third opera requires separation of two lovers for the honor
of family in “La traviata.”

Each of these productions is staged in a different time and place, but the same underlying theme of love is a predominant factor in the story.
Returning to a year-round opera season, the opera program opens with a September recital in the Balboa Theatre by Piotr Beczala who has appeared in San Diego in two previous operas. The tenor brings his international star appeal having performed in the great opera houses of the world.

The grand opera season begins in October at the Civic Theatre with Rossini’s “La Cenerentola” (Cinderella) and company debuts of Americans mezzo-soprano Lauren McNeese and tenor David Portillo as the fairy-tale lovers. Conductor Gary Wedow and stage director Lindy Hume also make their company debuts with a production from Leipzig Opera set in the English Edwardian era. The lively music by Rossini set to the traditional tale of love overcoming all obstacles will be a popular attraction for family attendance.

The first of the new Detour Series at the Balboa Theatre will open on November 11 for three consecutive performances of “Soldier Songs.” Crafted especially to appeal to a military audience, this gripping perception of war from age 6 to 66 of a boy playing war games into a real life encounter of a man serving in the military experiencing the horrors of war and later as a father whose worst fears are realized with the news of the death of his son. It is a powerful work composed by David T. Little and cast with a single baritone, David Adam Moore.

Returning to the grand opera season at the Civic Theatre in February is Verdi’s only comic opera “Falstaff.” Based on Shakespeare’s play, “Merry Wives of Windsor,” this popular opera is a complete change in Verdi’s vast repertory of historic tragedies. It was written late in his career as a valedictory of his genius. The title role is sung by Roberto de Candia making his San Diego debut. The conductor is Daniele Callegari.

Another Detour production at the Balboa Theatre in March is “Tragedy of Carmen,” an interpretation of Bizet’s opera in a condensed version of the original score. The love aspect here is the infatuation that Don José shows for the free-spirited Carmen who turns many heads. When the toreador Escamillo catches her eye, the passion turns into revenge, an ugly twist to an aspect of love.

That is the general gist of the original Bizet opera, but this production resorts back to the novella by Prosper Merrimee that Bizet loosely adapted for his opera. The original story is gritty with a Carmen having several lovers and a smuggler husband; a Don José who is scruffy and not all a Mama’s boy pining for his sweetheart; a Toreador who is killed in the bullring. This production conceived and directed by Peter Brook is cut to a one act, 80 minute performance. Gone are the children’s chorus, the gypsy scene at the tavern and the fanfare of the toreador’s entrance to the bullring.

Don José becomes a serial killer dispensing with Carmen’s husband, the officer who catches him in the tavern and of course Carmen herself. Much of the grand opera image as composed by Bizet is eliminated for presentation in a more intimate theater setting that creates a tense drama set to the familiar music.

Concluding the 2016-2017 season is the all-time tear jerker, “La traviata.” This Verdi opera fulfills all the aspects of love: romantic first encounter, sacrifice of separation, a parental plea for a son’s redemption and a compassionate reconciliation of the lovers.

Violetta is cast as a Gatsby-era party girl who finds love with a young provincial man and abandons her secure life supported by wealthy patrons. The romantic idyll is shattered when the lover’s father begs her to release him for sake of propriety.

The cast includes several debuts at SDO: American soprano Corinne Winters as the Lady of Camellias, a winner of the Metropolitan Opera auditions, who has performed with regional opera companies here and abroad; her passionate lover, Alfredo, is Joshua Guerrero an American tenor who performs often at Los Angeles Opera; the production was conceived and directed by Marta Domingo making her SDO debut with conductor Stephen Lord.

Season subscribers should discover all aspects of love in this repertory.
Tickets for all performances are available on line at http://www.sdopera.com or 619 533 7000.

Ford is a past president of San Diego Opera and supports the opera archive at San Diego State University