Santa Fe Opera, 2010: Hoffmann intrigue and shake-up!!

Well, imagine showing up to your first orchestra dress to discover that one of the main players in your cast has decided to leave the production….after working and rehearsing for almost 4 weeks!!  Well this is exactly what happened as Gidon Saks decided he was not up to the task of singing the ‘Four Villains’ in the Santa Fe Opera’s new production of The Tales of Hoffmann.  There seems to be a confluence of factors involved here: Acid reflux, laryngitis, swollen vocal chords, general dislike of the production, altitude issues; etc, etc, etc.  One never knows the truth behind explanations such as:  “Illness”, “Personal Reasons”, “Scheduling Conflicts”, and the like.  These Press Release Buzz Words are almost always a load of dung and should never be relied upon as being genuine.

I can tell you that from my standpoint that I have never seen a singer who was more suited, compelling, and vocally convincing in a role, (and then pulled out of a production) than Mr. Saks.  Sure, he could grouse about his program bio being not quite right (from day one, no less!); sure, he could be a bit fussy in rehearsals (everyone has their own style); sure, he could publicly complain that there was not enough ‘protein’ served in the Cantina and that its hours of operation were not perfectly suited to the artists’ working hours; sure, he could express discontent with Christopher Alden’s (brilliant) choices of direction; but ultimately he adjusted to everything and was nothing less than mesmerizing in these roles.  And quite frankly, he sang it very, very well; despite being ostentatiously dissatisfied at our sitzprobe….well, I sat in the house when I was not needed on stage and he sounded terrific.

He admits openly to being somewhat insecure.  But aren’t all of us who step on the stage, in a sense, “somewhat insecure”??  Well, no matter, as he has withdrawn.  He further expressed relief at the fact that he didn’t have to perform these roles at what was to be his final rehearsal.  He walked the role last night, while the ever prepared Wayne Tigges (his cover) sang from the orchestra pit.  Mr. Tigges, (somewhat of a takeover specialist) will perform the roles from here on out, much the same way he took over an entire run from Ildebrando d’Arcangelo, as Figaro (Nozze), several years ago after opening night at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

General Director Charles MacKay, and Artistic Administrator Brad Woolbright put the best face on the situation for the small gathered audience at this rehearsal; but the fact remains that I think this a bad move on the part of Mr. Saks.  He said that he was told by a local ENT to not sing for an entire month, and that the bottom portion of his vocal chords were swollen to twice their size.  And so Gidon, we wish you well.  I, for one, will miss your elegant portrayal of these roles and am simply not convinced over the entire “reasoning” behind your departure.

One final comment: It is true that it is an extremely difficult task to sing at this altitude.  Just ask Erin Wall who has to gasp for air while wearing costumes that, while beautiful, are very heavy.  Just ask Paul Groves who has to sing all night and move rather considerably–and violently–throughout.  Just ask Kate Lindsey who dances jestingly, is up and down off of tables constantly, and is dragged across the stage several times.  Just ask ME, who has to dance on tables while singing, crawl under tables when not singing, writhe maniacally on the floor at times, walk on and over chairs, and so on.  It is tough for ALL of us as we unashamedly GASP for air on the Santa Fe Opera stage.  Well, we all have had to adapt somehow.  My guess is that Mr. Saks could have done so too.  I suspect that he may be his own worst enemy, and sadly, his own worst critic….