Sunday, November 22, 2009

San Francisco Remembers Elisabeth Söderström

Today's New York Times ran Anthony Tommasini's obituary for the Swedish soprano Elisabeth Söderström, who died on Friday in Stockholm at the age of 82. Tommasini cited the Marschallin in Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier as one of her major roles; but, with his New-York-centric perspective, he neglected to mention a corollary that is particularly relevant to San Francisco. Söderström leveraged her expertise with this opera to serve as the "primary brains" (with help from Lotfi Mansouri) behind the production last mounted by the San Francisco Opera during their spring season for 2007. (Since Joyce DiDonato just gave a recital here this past Monday, it is worth observing that this Rosenkavalier was her most recent appearance with the San Francisco Opera.) Söderström's conception of Rosenkavalier was very much "by the book;" but, as I wrote in 2007, it is hard to imagine the opera being set any other way. As I put it at that time:

The story just has too many things to tell in its intended setting to let revisionism get in the way.

My point at the time was that one does not need revisionism to discover new ways to look at a familiar opera. Söderström apparently appreciated this proposition, and I appreciated her being true to it. My only regret now is that I never had the chance to be present at one of her performances, but she left the San Francisco Opera with a real gift. I hope they continue to care for it.

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