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The 37th Anniversary of My San Francisco Opera Debut

Joseph Frank

Returning to San Francisco Opera is especially poignant for me. Although I had already sung some roles professionally beginning in 1972, my big debut was here on the stage of the Memorial Opera House on Sept 13, 1974 as the Maestro di Ballo to Leontyne Price's first Manon Lescaut. Back then there were no apprentice programs, Adler Fellows, or Merola. I was fortunate in that I had worked with Otto Guth, Kurt Adler's right-hand man, at Curtis Institute in Philadelphia where I was completing a post graduate opera degree. Through his recommendation I was invited to sing in San Francisco, where Mr. Adler offered me a number of wonderful roles.

Goro to Renata Scotto's Butterfly, Incredible to Domingo's Chenier, and the list goes on. To be so young and sing with such great singers was always a learning experience. So by the time of my MET debut,(1979) I had a number of roles under my belt having sung them on a major US stage - San Francisco Opera.

My work with Miss Price led to the role of my MET Debut. We had sung Ariadne auf Naxos in 1977 in San Francisco, and I had sung for James Levine in 1978, and they weren't sure in what role to have me debut, so Leontyne suggested me for the Tanzmeister as she was bringing her Ariande to the Met, so again, the importance of San Francisco Opera to my career.

In the 70's I had the opportunity to work in a number of productions under the direction of Lotfi Mansouri here in San Francisco. Through Mr. Mansouri, I debuted in Houston, as I was called in at the last minute to sing Nick the Bartender in Fanciulla del West, as the contracted tenor was released. Our collaborations continued in many US houses, but our first collaboration was in 1974 when I sang Hortensius in Daughter of the Regiment (Beverly Sills) under Lotfi's skilled direction. Of all the years, 1977 stands out as I was priviledged to appear in opening night ADRIANA LECOUVREUR with Scotto, Obrazova, Aragall and Gavazenni conducting; Pong in the Ponnelle TURANDOT with Pavarotti and Caballe's first performances with Chailly conducting; and the Tanzmeister in Ariadne auf Naxos with Leontyne Price.
[Above: Joseph Frank as Pong in 1977 with Luciano Pavarotti in his debut as Calaf. Photo by Ron Scherl.]

Although the character roles (comprimario) for which I am noted, are now being given to apprentice artists etc, there are a few houses that still value the "seasoned" touch of an experienced character tenor, so happily, I am back as Altoum in the Hockney production of Turandot, which was first seen here in 1993.

A special thanks to David Gockley who was my "boss" for numerous appearances in Houston (if I remember correctly, I sang PONG in his Turandot in the 90's) for the invitation to return. I don't plan to retire anytime soon, so perhaps I'll be asked back to continue my collaboration with my "home company," The San Francisco Opera. In the meantime, I enjoy my 20th year as Professor of Voice, Art Song, and Opera at San Jose State University. Our students are excited to be able to see their teacher perform locally. AT&T park will give them the opportunity to have their Garlic Fries, Beer and see a fabulous production - live!

[Right: Joseph Frank as Emporer Altoum in Turandot. Irene Theorin and Marco Berti in the foreground as Turandot and Calaf. Photo by Cory Weaver.]