L.A. rising

While opera companies worldwide close or issue statements of impending doom, L.A. Opera announced an interesting 2009-2010 season that makes me realize more than ever that Los Angeles is now the second most vital city in the country as far as classical music and opera are concerned. Rather than hemming and hawing over whether they can afford to stage L.A.'s first Ring cycle, they have gone full bore and given us the whole thing as well as two rarities, two favorites, and appearances by Rolando Villazon, Nathan Gunn, Juan Diego Florez, Joyce DiDonato, Anja Kampe and Domingo himself (in two operas!) among many other excellent casting choices. Of course it's common sport here in the Bay Area to deride L.A. as cultural wasteland, but at this point I don't think any reasonable person can look at the ambitious (if not always successful) programming and direction of LA Opera and say that SF Opera even keeping up in the Gockley era. They have "Recovered Voices, " we have "Opera at the Ball Park." True, we had Appomattox and they got stuck with The Fly, but their Elisir has Villazon and we had Vargas. Don't get me wrong, Vargas was great in the role last season, but Villazon is the superior performer.

Wisely, Domingo put off the premiere of the destined-to-be-as-awful-as-The Fly "Il Postino," in an effort to conserve some cash. This year we are not going to see Peter Grimes for the same reason. Hmm. I don't know about you, but I can't say the better choice was made here.

Furthermore, losing Runnicles is soon going to feel like a kick in the gut once the new musical director gives an even steadier diet of Puccini and Verdi . I'm not drinking the Luisotti Kool Aid that Gockley is serving to the buffed and botoxed crowd. While in L.A. they replaced Nagano with Conlon. Luisotti or Conlon? Again, L.A. made the better move and has a far more exciting man behind the podium than we will (and let's not even talk about the LA Phil- at least not yet).

I'll admit Gockley put me off from the moment he arrived with his disparaging and stupid remarks about Catherine Naglestad and his incessant negative comments about Pamela Rosenberg's era. But since it looks like he's planning on dying in this job, I thought I should try to give him a chance- to try to like what he is doing with my beloved San Francisco Opera.

I really did try. I loved Rosenkavalier. I loved Lucia. I loved Tristan and Isolde. I loved things that were done because obviously Runnicles wanted to do them (Die Tote Stadt).

But then there was Macbeth.

Mr. "No Euro-trash on my watch" Gockley gave staged a piece of dreck that made the Katya Kabanova's notorious haz-mat team seem sensible and appropriate by comparison. At that point I threw in the towel. It's one thing to be a pretentious goober - it's another to be a pretentious goober hypocrite talking smack.

I'll continue to trash Gockley as time goes on- it seems he's intent to keep giving me reasons to do so. I wish I could look forward to January 26th, but I don't, and that saddens me. I hope that we at least get a Janacek or Strauss opera this coming season, hopefully with Mattila in it.

But I have a feeling I might subscribe to only one opera company next season- and their zip code is in the neighborhood of 90210.