Rehearsals have started up again in earnest*, Billy Budd posters are already posted on the sides of buses, and the opera CDs are lined up on my desk waiting to be encoded -- all signs that the summer has run its course and another concert season begins. And thus the time has come to follow up my where/when/how post about being a standing room patron at the San Francisco Opera with one to detail the what and why.
The "why" may be as simple as my inability to refuse a bargain: For $10, I get an unobstructed view from the ground floor, essentially the same perspective as people paying ten times as much. Who can resist a 90% off sale? And, if I play my cards right and Luck is a Mme. that night, some kind gentleman will approach me during the intermission as I am huddled on the ground by the railing looking youthfully earnest, and utter the magic words: "Would you like my seat?" At that point I quickly put away my binoculars, and find myself sitting among the crazy people who were not only able but willing to pay upwards of $150 for one seat -- at the opera. And I got in for just $10! One can barely get into Harold and Kumar for that.
But mockery of irrationally exuberant opera fanaticism aside, there are indeed some things in the first part of this season that I'm interested in hearing. I expect Frederica von Stade will be great fun as Despina in Così fan tutte -- it's always a relief and a pleasure when a performer has the stage acting technique to back up their singing. In rotation at the same time are La Traviata and Billy Budd, which feature two "barihunks" -- one of the worst neologisms ever coined, to indicate any baritone who could conceivably be perceived as "hot" by opera's depressed standards -- Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Nathan Gunn, respectively. (Ruth Ann Swenson could be a pretty good Violetta too; we'll see.) As it turns out, Nathan Gunn is in fact a decent looking guy, vaguely reminiscent of the guy on JAG who played the sex-addicted football player that Allison dated on Melrose Place. (M. M-, a singing colleague, has mentioned that he's looking forward to the scene where he gets to hold M. Gunn down for a while.) He's singing Billy of course, which could be a good fit. And bass Phillip Ens, who was Don Basilio in last season's Barber of Seville, is back to sing the more substantial role of Claggart. I wasn't so excited by his schticky Basilio, but I'll basically pay attention to any bass that comes along.
These three shows, plus the Renee Fleming solo gala on Friday and Opera in the Park on Sunday (thanks, Comrade E-), will carry us through mid-October, after which the next round -- Tosca, Flying Dutchman, Onegin and Ligeti's Le Grand Macabre -- moves into the theater. I'll rip the Te Kanawa/von Stade (as Dorabella)/Stratas version of Cosi and the version of Billy Budd that Britten conducted, with Peter Glossop and Peter Pears, for the Device. (I know we have that Erato recording of Thomas Hampson singing Billy around here somewhere, but it seems to have disappeared.) As for which Traviata to use, I'm still as undecided as an Ohio voter.
UPDATE: For all you Nathan Gunn seekers, come visit the Wall o' Nathan.
* We've all been having good luck parking around Fillmore in Pacific Heights for our High Holy Days rehearsals -- so much so that we are concerned about using up our good karma chits too early, and that we'll be fucked come Rosh Hashanah. I also was pleasantly surprised to find that there are untimed, unmetered spaces in Hayes Valley during the weekday on Fell! I was less pleasantly surprised to find a cement truck double-parked directly blocking my car when I was done. And as for the never-ending saga of parking woe, I just received a letter from the DPT to inform me that the first of the four tickets I'm challenging, three by J.T., was not issued in error. It's too early in the day for me to start drinking, so I'd better stop here.