Was it, as this Berkely Daily Planet op-ed conjectured, due to the new media suite, which will record every performance on high definition from this Don Giovanni on and thus will put some demand on the singers to look good, conjectures the writer? And wouldn’t anyone from Texas (SF Opera's general director David Gockley's previous job was in Houston) consider a white woman such as Elza Van Den Heever better looking than a black woman such as Hope Briggs, asks the op-ed writer? The wild, unsubstantiated conspiracy theory says more about the person making those connections that it does about the process inside the opera house, but nonetheless, even the NY Times jumped in the debate!

Race most likely did not play a role, but still one consequence of the switch was to cancel an African-American community outreach event, which is still a slap in the face and a tough situation for the PR to handle. Is Al Sharpton flying into town soon?

Yet last night performed slammed shut the questioning and finger pointing and Monday quarterbacking of the move: while Hope Briggs performed quite expertly a few excerpts of her part in Dolores Park a week ago, Elza Van Den Heever was a revelation last night. She had all the qualities of a major star: range, power at the top, yet the required Mozartian agility in the more challenging parts. She would reveal the high notes, clear and fully formed, hit them straight on the mark, confidently, when so many singers get to a nearby approximate spot and slide to the right tone.

Pictures of Mariusz Kwiecien by Terrence McCarthy and Elza Van Den Heever (with Charles Castronovo) by John Lee, courtesy of SF Opera. The second picture was actually taken during Saturday's first act. Short of taking you with us, you cannot get any closer!