Post image for HIGHLY RECOMMENDED Free Opera Streaming: STREAMING THE FIRST CENTURY (San Francisco Opera)

by Chuck Louden on October 10, 2022

in Music,Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area


Streaming the First Century, SFO’s free online hub for historic recordings and interviews, has released Session 2: Parlez-vous français? (schedule below). This new installment, the second of four releases scheduled for fall 2022, features performances of French repertory from the Company’s first 100 seasons. Operas by Jules Massenet, Gustave Charpentier, Hector Berlioz and Olivier Messiaen are highlighted, along with the oldest known San Francisco Opera recording: a piano roll of music from Camille Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila performed by Company founder Gaetano Merola in 1925.

In the first session, Slavic Sensibilities, there is an amazing recording of Dmitri Shostakovich’s LADY MACBETH OF MTSENSK (1981), with photos, program, background, introductions to each audio experience by contemporary voices who lend historical and musical insights, and more. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND you check the entire first season as well as the new one. What a treasure trove.

“Parlez-vous français?” also includes two complete historic recordings, audio excerpts from four additional performances and introductions to each audio experience by contemporary voices who lend historical and musical insights. Each previously unissued performance, drawn mostly from the archival collections of San Francisco Opera, is presented to inspire deeper engagement with the repertory of the Company’s current Centennial Season through moments from its distinguished past.

San Francisco Opera enjoys a vast recorded legacy. Throughout its history, the Company’s performances have been set into shellac grooves, punched into paper rolls, recorded onto wires or magnetic tape, converted into digital signals, and streamed over the internet to listeners around the world. This Centennial Season, San Francisco Opera is opening the vault and sharing a selection of preserved treasures from its first 100 years.

Company founder Gaetano Merola’s enthusiasm for emerging technologies ensured that San Francisco Opera was on the air in the early 1920s when radio was still in its infancy. Several performances from the 1930s were recorded off the airwaves and, beginning in the 1960s, new devices allowed even non-broadcast presentations to be preserved, sometimes surreptitiously. Still later, San Francisco Opera’s industry-pioneering Taube Media Suite allowed performances from 2007 onward to be captured in HD. Nearly 50 titles from that still-growing catalog of operas were streamed on-demand during the pandemic while the stage was otherwise dark, and the Media Suite will enable each production during the 2022–23 Season to be livestreamed and preserved.

Here’s what you get with
Streaming the First Century
: “Parlez-vous français?”

Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites, onstage from October 15–30, provides the point of departure for a concentrated tour of French style exhibited on the War Memorial Opera House stage over the past century.

Complete Recordings

 José Carreras in Massenet’s Werther (1978);
Samuel Ramey and Renée Fleming in Charpentier’s Louise (1999).
Photos: Ron Scherl (top) and Ken Friedman (bottom). 

WERTHER (1978) by Jules Massenet. The onstage chemistry between Spanish tenor José Carreras as Werther and Detroit-born soprano Maria Ewing as Charlotte in this 1978 broadcast led to a performance of blazing intensity. Baritone and devoted Maria Ewing fan Kenneth Overton introduces the performance and observes how these opera stars turned up the heat.

The cast includes José Carreras (Werther), Maria Ewing (Charlotte), Kathleen Battle (Sophie), and Allan Monk (Albert). Conductor is Antonio de Almeida, and Sonja Frisell directs.

LOUISE (1999) by Gustave Charpentier. Charpentier’s rarely performed love letter to the city of Paris bursts with romantic ardor and exquisite vocalism in this souvenir from 1999. The cast, who performed their roles together only in San Francisco, is headed by Renée Fleming in the title role, Jerry Hadley as Julien, and Samuel Ramey and Felicity Palmer as Louise’s protective parents. Dramaturg and writer Roger Pines unveils the delights of Louise and speaks with Fleming and Palmer about this memorable production, a passion project of former Company general director Lotfi Mansouri.

CAST: Renée Fleming (Louise), Jerry Hadley (Julien), Samuel Ramey (the Father), Felicity Palmer (the Mother); Patrick Summers (conductor), Lotfi Mansouri (production).

Excerpted Recordings

Top: Tito Schipa & Bidú Sayão in Manon (1939); Photo Lawrence Morton
Center: The Company premiere of Les Troyens (1966); Photo Carolyn Mason Jones
Bottom: Sherrill Milnes and Beverly Sills in Thaïs (1976). Photo Ron Scherl

MANON (1939) by Jules Massenet. This historic fragment from the 1939 season opener preserves the artistry of two early San Francisco Opera favorites and vocal paragons of the past century: Italian tenor Tito Schipa and, in her Company debut, Brazilian soprano Bidú Sayão.

LES TROYENS (1966) by Hector Berlioz. A rare audience recording documented the moment Berlioz’s epic roared into San Francisco Opera’s repertory with two iconic interpreters at its heart: French diva Régine Crespin singing both Cassandre and Didon and Canadian tenor Jon Vickers as Aeneas.

THAÏS (1976) by Jules Massenet. Nearly a decade before his appointment as San Francisco Opera’s first music director, John Pritchard led the Company premiere of Massenet’s Thaïs featuring the operatic star power of Beverly Sills in the title role and Sherrill Milnes as Athanaël.

SAINT FRANÇOIS D’ASSISE (2002) by Olivier Messiaen. The U.S. premiere of Messiaen’s only opera was a marquee event in Company history, led by then-Music Director Donald Runnicles and starring Willard White as the title role and namesake of San Francisco.

Additional features of Session 2 include:

  • A rare piano roll of music from Samson et Dalila played by Company founder Gaetano Merola in 1925, courtesy of the Archive of Recorded Sound at Stanford University.
  • An archival interview between soprano Bidú Sayão and former general director and noted raconteur Terence McEwen. An essay about Sayão’s charm by writer Paul Thomason further illuminates this memorable performer.
  • “Spanning the Decades” conversations between Justin Partier and legendary lighting designer Thomas Munn, captured a few weeks before Munn’s passing last May; and former Chorus Director Ian Robertson and Dramaturg Emeritus Kip Cranna continue their conversation from Session 1.
  • A recent interview with Dame Felicity Palmer recalling her role as the Mother in the 1999 production of Charpentier’s Louise.
  • From the San Francisco Opera Oral History Project, in partnership with the Oral History Center at UC Berkeley, an excerpt from the 10-hour life history interview with Pamela Rosenberg, San Francisco Opera’s fifth general director, about presenting the American premiere of Messiaen’s Saint François d’Assise in 2002.
  • And more in the “Down the Rabbit Hole” feature.

Full details of future installments of Streaming the First Century will be available with the launch of each new session. Upcoming releases include:

Session 3: “Italian Roots” (Released November 7)

November brings new San Francisco Opera productions of La Traviata and Orpheus and Eurydice to the stage, along with this opportunity to survey the Company’s foundations in Italian works by Leoncavallo, Puccini, Giordano and Verdi.

Complete recordings: Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci (1962) / Puccini’s Turandot (1977)
Excerpts: Tosca (1932)Andrea Chénier (1938)Il Trovatore (1971)La Forza del Destino (2005)

Session 4: “Ho Jo To Ho!” (Released December 5)

With Die Frau ohne Schatten on the horizon for Summer 2023, Streaming the First Century invites you to delve into works by German and Austrian composers with memorable San Francisco Opera performances of works by Strauss, Korngold, Mozart and Wagner.

Complete recordings: Strauss’ Salome (1974) / Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt (2008)
Excerpts: Die Walküre (1936)Così fan tutte (1960)Elektra (1966); Fidelio (1978)

Streaming the First Century is made possible by the Edward Paul Braby San Francisco Opera Archives and through partnerships with the American Guild of Musical Artists, the American Federation of Musicians and the individual artists involved. The Company extends its gratitude to all who support the Archives and its ongoing work to preserve and tell the Company’s story. To learn more about the San Francisco Opera’s Archives and performance history, visit archive.sfopera.com.

Leave a Comment