Friday, January 26, 2007

Gockley, in Depth

This realization sort of snuck up on me, but I have to say I think David Gockley's first fully planned season is the most exciting one the San Francisco Opera has offered in a quarter of a century. The claim to fame isn't the rep list itself — it's slightly chestnut-laden, and although I love me some Civil War, the prospect of Philip Glass's Appomattox doesn't set the pulse racing like Saint François d'Assise or Le Grand Macabre, to say nothing of Doctor Atomic.

But what this season has going for it, unprecedentedly in my experience with the company, is that it's entirely filler-free. Every single production promises some reason to get excited — the first visit by intriguing directors like Robert Lepage and Mary Zimmerman, starry debuts by Natalie Dessay, Ewa Podles and Angela Gheorghiu, a huge list of debuts by singers I never heard of, or, what the hell, even just Maurice Sendak's Magic Flute production, coming here for the first time.

The only thing on the schedule that leaves me cold is the opening-night Samson and Delilah, and that's a function of my own idiosyncrasies: I have no particular use for any 19th-century French music that isn't by Berlioz (remember, "Gounod" is an anagram of "ungood"), and although I'm an Olga Borodina fan, I'm not, you know, the world's biggest Olga Borodina fan. If you're a little more normal than I am on either of those two points, then even that one should get you going.

What's lacking from this season is the Bohème or Traviata revival trotted out in a familiar old production, with singers we all love but have heard a bunch of times before and an amiable time-beater in the pit. And that's not something you can say about any prior season that I can recall. If Gockley's tenure turns out to be as successful as I hope, it'll be due in part to this kind of conscientious consistency. He just doesn't seem to do throwaways.

P.S. To clarify, and forestall some needless whining: I don't care what the calendar says, as soon as Debussy picked up his pen the 19th century was over.


At 1/28/2007 10:17 AM, Blogger Ching Chang said...

Hi, Josh.

We're on the same page. This is what I put on my blog last week:

"The SF Opera 2007-08 season looks pretty promising on paper, except that it will open with the company's old production of Saint-Saëns' SAMSON AND DELILAH. During the conference, David Gockley said it is one of the "most beautiful" productions that SF Opera owns, but let's be real: they are restaging this turkey as an excuse to present Olga Borodina in something that won't take too much rehearsal time to put together."

How about dinner sometime? - CC

At 1/30/2007 12:07 AM, Anonymous Bill Keiser said...

Thanks for the encouraging news about the next SFO Season. As an out-of-towner/opera lover, I must admit that I had pretty much written off SFO after the Rosenberg departure and Gockley arrival. I hope the new Season proves me wrong. And I think you've understated the case for excitement in the new Season. (I, for one, am excited by the thought of the Glass work.) And while I too find "Samson" to be a boring old potboiler, the rest is almost all good stuff. And if you compare it with LA Opera's next Season of one interesting night of One Act premieres and a whole lot of old chestnuts in tired productions, you'll understand why I (and I suspect many others) will be planning a number of trips to San Francisco next Season. Thanks again for the news.

At 1/30/2007 3:06 AM, Anonymous Stephen Unyi said...

Christ I'm growing mold. The most "exciting season in 25 years?" Gockley may yet prove himself as a very very compotent manager, but I see little to compare with Rosenberg's tenure, where we had at least some extraordinary productions (you mention several in your piece) along with some good shit and then some horrible shit. I prefer this approach. I do not have enough money to through behind a bunch of corporate passionless calculation.
By the way... you apparently almost never travel to hear music or review outside San Francisco. Your last big trip seems to have been the SF Symphony tour (?!) to Shanghai. Plus some Santa Fe summer opera. What the fuck? I mean, we LOVE to cum all over overselves up here but this gets somewhat ridiculous for a critic. You cannot be a serious critic with this sort of static life. Go to New York and take in Boulez with CSO, or Abbado with Lucerne next year, or Berlin and that amazing orchestra from Venezuela. Or at least Ojai with that dope pianist Aimard. I agree the the symphony here under Tilson Thomas has had a remarkable run, and Rosenberg was outstanding, but please...

At 2/01/2007 11:46 AM, Blogger Henry Holland said...

By the way... you apparently almost never travel to hear music or review outside San Francisco

So? Mark Swed travels all over the world for the Los Angeles Times and he's an appallingly bad critic. Loves stuff uncritically --see: Adams, John-- acts more as a cheerleader for the Los Angeles Philharmonic than a critic and is generally not worthy to lick the soles of Martin Bernheimer's shoes clean with his bare tongue (tm Monty Python).

As for SFO, what a freaking dull season! *Another* Philip Glass opera? Why bother? What happened to the promised Die Tote Stadt?

At 11/13/2011 8:13 PM, Blogger Lisa Hirsch said...

I was looking for your comment about Berlioz - you'll see why in the next couple of days - and am shaking my head over the current SFO season, which, of course, has Don Giovanni, Carmen, Magic Flute, and Turandot. Oh, well!


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