Encore, Encore—The Opera Returns to KQED

Elixir of Love

Celebrated sopranos, renowned tenors, and beloved baritones return to KQED for a second run of San Francisco Opera productions, recorded live in high definition at the War Memorial Opera House. The 2011 series features Giacomo Puccini's La Bohème and Tosca and Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia de Lammermoor and The Elixir of Love.

We spoke to David Gockley, general director of San Francisco Opera, about changes that have come to opera since filming began and about the series.

Why these four operas for broadcast in 2011?
Because they are fabulously popular pieces, and they'll generate great viewership. We're trying to get established in the video field, and at this point we have to play from our strengths--the repertoire and artists.

Is there something that viewers should watch for in this series?
I think it will be fun to look for the Napa Valley setting in The Elixir of Love. It's a unique local perspective on an Italian community of 75 years ago.

Has it ever been set in this area before?
I believe this is first time. I'm aware of a Wild West staging, but that's not this!

How have performers reacted to being filmed for broadcast?
We allow screenings after each performance we've recorded, and performers can go over their parts. There is certainly a greater sensitivity to how they look and act, how their hair looks, and if their costume is as flattering as possible.

We tape at least three performances of each production as well as having a rehearsal performance that we can pull from to create the final product. We also record with all ten of our cameras each time, so we have shots from all over the place. For example, if someone doesn't like the way they look singing a particular note, we can use a longer shot that doesn't emphasize their facial expression.

Has the directors' approach changed?
They are aware, in the back of their minds, that it will be recorded, but I don't think it has much if any impact until the very final stages when they see if something they've done really screws up the video.

Our approach is to try to use the video to adapt to what the stage director has done. And move a camera if necessary. I don't think much of the conception of the theatrical production is influenced by video.

What would you say to someone who's reticent about watching opera?
Try it. Maybe it will register with you, and you may discover a great pleasure and joy in life listening to opera. There's a context added by music and voice that highlights not only reality and the feelings of the performers but also the reaction a viewer has to it.

How have the simulcasts/broadcasts of performances impacted opera house ticket sales?
They've increased them tremendously. We've sold in excess of $1 million in tickets to people who attended the opera at the ballpark. And last year's broadcasts on KQED brought a surprisingly large viewership.

To have the work available on television is tremendously important to us. It is a window to so many new people who might get involved and get hooked. I'm a great proponent of "supply creates its own demand." In the early days of televised sports, people thought that television would cut down on ballpark attendance, but overall its presence on TV catapulted the whole enterprise into a different consciousness.

Photo by Terrence McCarthy.

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