Monday, June 04, 2007

She is African, too

A friend wonders: "Why did they have to cancel the African American opera patrons dinner? After all, isn't Elza van den Heever African too?"

In any case, there is mounting evidence from different sources suggesting that Hope Briggs dismissal from SFO's Don Giovanni was not about race, but rather a carefully orchestrated deal to promote van den Heever, a new client of Matthew Epstein at CAMI.

A selected portion of an e-mail received from a credible anonymous source:

"... So, this supposedly "sudden" event has been planned for a long time, as I'm sure you suspected as well. Rhoslyn Jones was the official cover, and [her colleagues] had been hearing from her "why am I even here, sitting in rehearsals, spending all this time," because she knew that Elza was in the wings and was being rehearsed, and kept informed of the production -- very quietly. The only person who didn't know was Hope.

[...] Matthew Epstein works very sneakily. While Gockley is not known to be a fan of Elza's around the Opera Center, he was supposedly convinced long ago by Epstein to make a big press splash like this, not only for SFO and the summer season, but for his new client Elza, as well as dumping a singer chosen by Pamela. Of course it would've looked even worse if they cancelled Hope earlier, to only replace her with an Adler (either Roz or Elza)."

Elza Van den Heever is an Adler Fellow, which is essentially a glorified intern undergoing advanced training. So, if SFO had replaced Hope Briggs earlier, they would have felt obliged to find an artist of stature to replace her, thus derailing a calculated plan to offer Matt's client Elza her big break. This version of events seems at least more plausible than asking us to passively believe that Rosenberg's choice of Briggs could be so unfit as to merit an unceremonious dump at the last minute.

© 2007 C. Chang


Blogger sfmike said...

While Ms. van den Heever was supposedly "being rehearsed...very quietly," she was also singing Susan Graham's role in "Iphegenie" rehearsals as her "official" cover (Ms. Graham was arriving late as she's already done the production) while running back and forth to "Der Rosenkavalier" rehearsals where she was cast as Marianne. I suppose she must have been sneaking in for secret "Giovanni" coaching sessions at midnight.

"A credible anonymous source?" You really are blowing your own credibility here.

4:25 PM  
Anonymous totally completely anonymous said...

If such dastardly machinations can be proven, then Gockley needs to be fired / resign immediately for being unethical.

6:06 PM  
Blogger Ching Chang said...

Hi, sfmike.

You're well informed about Elza, and that's great.

I'm not; I'm just processing the info that come my way, as best as I can. At this point, it does seem to me more plausible that her mainstage debut was orchestrated, which does not change the fact that she gave a strong performance. I gave Elza what I think is the strongest praise of any of the reviews I've seen so far, so have no bias towards her as far as her artistry, right?

Cheers, Ching

9:32 PM  
Blogger sfmike said...

Sorry to get so huffy on you.

Along with a number of other Adler Fellows, Elza is a neighbor in the building where I live. I'd seen and heard her in a Merola "Rape of Lucretia" and at the Symphony singing a Morton Feldman thing, and it was a pretty voice but I didn't think it was anything special.

About a year ago the marketing department at the opera had a few of the Adler Fellows go and sing a little recital on the main stage in the Civic Center and I heard Elza perform Lisa's big Suicide Aria from "Pique Dame" and in the middle of it I abruptly burst into tears. I've heard a number of great sopranos (including Rostropovich's widow, the great Galina Vishnevskaya) sing that aria at the opera over the years, and this was the best rendition I had ever heard, period.

Since then, I've just been waiting to see when the rest of the world was going to discover the young woman and her huge, beautiful voice. It didn't take long.

And though what happened to Hope Briggs was awful, I've seen much worse backstage at the opera. The politics are positively Borgia-like, which is part of what makes it The Opera.

11:52 PM  
Anonymous Philip aka Oberon said...

These backstage back-stabbings and machinations don't surprise me in the least.

I must say that I had never heard of Hope Briggs before this incident and I am fairly tuned-in to the young artists scene. Did anyone actually hear Briggs in any of the rehearsals who can comment on how she actually sounded: not basing it on how she has sung in other roles at other times? Maybe Donna Anna just did not suit her, or she is in a vocal bad patch?

You never know: the publicity from this could end up working in Hope's favor.

9:25 AM  
Blogger Ching Chang said...


Hopefully so (no pun intended)! It appears that Briggs name was dragged through the mud through no fault of her own.

First hand reports of the final dress were quite positive, and are in line with Briggs self-assessment, as stated to the SF Chronicle by the soprano herself. She also had already sung the role of Donna Anna at the Frankfurt Opera, a leading house in one of Germany's great finance centers. Briggs had greater professional stature than Van den Heever (a SF Opera Adler Fellow) but Van den Heever is a client of Matthew Epstein at CAMI. In case you didn't know, SF Opera Adler Fellows are essentially artists in training under contract by the house. They generally are not assigned starring roles, but might get to sing them if there is a last minute emergency cancellation.

3:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a bit of a note to your friend who has trouble distinguishing between an African-American and an Afrikaaner. And why there may be a racial cast to furor caused by Hope Briggs's replacement as I understand it. In the following, I'll just speak to the racial and political issues. Everyone is doing a great job discussing the musical, vocal and institutional-political ones.

African-Americans are people born in the U.S. who are of African or mixed race, including African, descent. South Africans include a number of African tribes, including Zulu and Ndebele, the British South Africans, and the Afrikaaners, or Dutch South Africans.

The Afrikaaners are the group who imposed apartheid--or the policy of racial segregation--on South Africa in the 1950s, when they took over majority control of the South African government. Theirs was a particularily hard-fisted regime.

The Afrikaaner's Apartheid state is now gone into the shadowy past of history, along with segregation in the American South.

Ms. van den Heever is, through no fault of her own, of Afrikaaner descent. To expect an African-American community, or anyone in sympathy with the grievances of that community, to be happy about her having taken over a role that formerly belonged to an African-American singer is naive beyond belief. To some, it would be like adding insult to injury.

This all has nothing to do with the singing. But is added to clarify an aspect of debate in this gnarly event.

4:45 PM  
Anonymous Luisa said...

Anon, I believe the comment was a joke.

2:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Luisa,

Thought that might be so, but just in case and for those who didn't get the joke, thought it might be worth clarifying. After all, we have a General Director claiming "Our business . . . has been nobly colorblind over recent decades."

Believing that may in itself be a problem.


2:49 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home