San Diego Opera's 1989 season will be one of operatic staples and predictable recitals garnished with an exotic import. Ian Campbell, the company's general director, announced the new season Wednesday at a press conference in his Balboa Park office.
While local audiences will be seeing San Diego Opera's first production of Beethoven's "Fidelio," the company has presented each of the other three operas in the international series once since 1980.
"I don't mind if this programming is described as cautiously conservative," explained Campbell, "because this is what has rebuilt our audience base over the last five years." Campbell promised that starting with the 1990 season, one 20th-Century opera will be included in the international series.
"We hasten slowly," he said.
A visit by the 60-member Peking Opera next Jan. 25-28 promises to be the season's most unusual offering. For its first tour of the United States, the Chinese company, which is noted for its mime, dance, martial arts and acrobatics, is bringing a series of excerpts from its repertory, rather than a single work.
The San Diego season will open Jan. 21 with Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor," featuring New York City Opera soprano Gail Dobish in the title role. Tenor Richard Leech, who sang the title role in San Diego's recent "Faust" production, will sing Edgardo opposite Dobish. Other members of the "Lucia" cast include J. Patrick Raftery, Kevin Langan, and Martin Chambers, San Diego Opera's chorus master, who will make his stage debut with the company as Normanno. Edoardo Muller, frequent guest conductor with the local company, will conduct, and Rhoda Levine will return as stage director.
Donizetti's bel canto tragedy will be followed by "Fidelio." Even though this work is new to San Diego, Campbell chose a production that places the action in a contemporary setting in a Central American banana republic, rather than in Spanish antiquity. The set, designed by Neil Peter Jampolis for Houston Grand Opera, has been purchased by the local company.
German soprano Sabine Hass, who appeared in the company's production of Wagner's "Der Fliegende Hollander" last season, will sing Leonore to Scottish tenor Graeme Matheson-Bruce's Florestan in this "Fidelio." Robert Tannenbaum will direct the production, and Royal Opera Covent Garden conductor Edward Downes will make his local debut on the podium.
Campbell has programmed a single comic opera for the season, Donizetti's "Don Pasquale," with Swiss bass Francois Loup in the title role. The general director defended choosing two operas by Donizetti in the short four-opera season on economic grounds.
"We had a need for operas with smaller casts to keep costs down," said Campbell. He pointed out that the 1989 season budget is $3.7 million, a mere $100,000 increase from the current season.
In "Don Pasquale" American soprano Cheryl Parrish will make her local debut as Norina, along with baritone Victor Ledbetter as Dr. Malatesta. The production will use San Francisco Opera's set designed by John Conklin. Wolfgang Weber of Vienna State Opera will direct Donizetti's classic opera buffa , and San Diego Opera associate conductor Karen Keltner will conduct.
The international opera season will close with Puccini's redoubtable "Madama Butterfly," with Japanese soprano Hiroko Nishida in the title role. Tenor Jonathan Welch, a San Diego native, will sing Pinkerton opposite Nishida. Kees Bakels of the Amsterdam Philharmonic will conduct.
In addition to the operas performed at the San Diego Civic Theatre, the company will present noted American mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne in solo recital. Her April 8, 1989, Civic Theatre program will close the season. Tenor Robert White will sing a program titled "Homage to John McCormack" on Feb. 20 at Sherwood Auditorium at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art. White is a member of the Manhattan School of Music's voice faculty.
Campbell noted that the 1989 season will be the first time San Diego Opera has not produced operas in the fall, allowing the company to concentrate on its educational programs in those months prior to the opening of the international season. All of the operas in the international series will be sung in their original language, with OperaText projections providing an English version of the libretto.