Friday, November 01, 2013

Take a Bow

David Kadarauch, the San Francisco Opera Orchestra's principal cellist for the past 40 years, is getting the San Francisco Opera Medal, to be presented onstage at tomorrow night's Falstaff. This is the company's highest honor, and it puts Kadarauch in the company of people like Joan Sutherland, Plácido Domingo, Charles Mackerras and Kurt Herbert Adler. He deserves every bit of the glory.

I suppose it's possible to go to SF Opera performances pretty regularly and not notice what a fantastic artist Kadarauch is. That's the nature of the gig — opera musicians labor away down there in the pit, sight unseen, and they don't get anything like the solo opportunities that symphony players get. But then you hear Kadarauch play something like the big cello solo from Act 4 of Don Carlos, and you think, "That's why Verdi wrote the scene that way. It was so someone would come along and play the music as sublimely as David Kadarauch does."

Then you start to pay attention, and you notice that whenever you hear cello music in the War Memorial Opera House, you snap to attention. Kadarauch's robust and supple string tone, the elegance of his phrasing, the combination of emotional urgency and expressive immediacy that he brings to everything he plays — these are among the reliable delights of operatic life in San Francisco. And it's not just the big cello moments, in Pagliacci or Guillaume Tell or Act 1 of Walküre; Kadarauch illuminates the most ordinary passages with the same kind of artistry.

Opera companies tend to key their programming decisions to the available singers — they do Falstaff for Bryn Terfel, or Onegin for Anna Netrebko. I get it; singers are admittedly important. But I've always believed that the San Francisco Opera ought to program Don Carlos just because they have David Kadarauch.