Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Bureau de Change

March 18, 2010

Alice Coote as Maffeo Orsini in Lucrezia Borgia
Photo: Bayerische Staatsoper 2009

Here at Out West Arts, I’m not usually one to breathlessly follow the ins and outs of casting changes at opera houses around the world. It’s endlessly boring and puts too much emphasis on the vocal performances in the art form as a whole for my taste. Not that I don’t like to get chances to see big stars as much as the next guy, I just don’t think it rises to the level of news all that often. But I will admit getting a chuckle this week over the sniping coming out of the San Francisco Opera press department over the withdrawal of Elina Garanča from this fall’s upcoming production of Werther. As noted on both Parterre Box and Iron Tongue of Midnight, San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley had some pointed words about Garanča’s apparent “buh-bye” via her website announcement of a series of conflicting recitals she had scheduled in Europe during the dates of the Werther run. From the press release:

Regarding Ms. Garanča, Mr. Gockley commented, “It pains me greatly to announce that Ms. Garanča has chosen not to appear in next season’s Werther as promised. She is a glamorous young star who has created a stir in Europe and at the Metropolitan Opera, and I was looking forward to presenting her West Coast debut. However, after extensive discussions with her management and having filed a grievance through the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA), I am satisfied that the financial settlement we have reached disposes of the matter.”

The replacement will be the lovely Alice Coote and I for one am thrilled to have another chance to hear her, though I've preferred her Mozart and Baroque appearances over others I've heard her in. Oddly, she doesn't quite rank for a photo on the SFO website's Werther page like Garanča did. But I'm no expert in the politics of these things that determine who is and isn't a big star.

As for Garanča's departure, I find the tone of Gockley's comments comical. He's the one who has been hell-bent on bringing "star power" back to San Francisco at nearly any cost—encouraging audiences to focus on the issue at post-show feedback groups in the past few years and soliciting contributions specifically for the purpose of recruiting big stars. When getting names starts to take precedence over broader artistic values, trouble can certainly arise both on and now off-stage. Apparently, Gockley and SFO weren't quite able to offer the money or prestige that Garanča wanted or she wouldn't be doing something else I'd wager. I guess being a "singers' house" isn't the plum draw that it once was for international talent. And in the meantime the old adage about playing with fire appears to hold true.



Well Brian, based on the photo of Coote you've posted, I can see why they don't necessarily want to highlight she's the replacement for one of the most beautiful of the current crop of younger female singers.

I had little reason to attend Werther besides wanting to see Garanca- now I'm unlikely to bother- Coote was great in Alcina, but nothing really special in Idomeneo. Pass.

On the upside, it's been awhile since we've had a Gockley=ass moment, so at least there's that.
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