Sunday, August 11, 2019

Breaking The Waves at West Edge

Conductor: Jonathan Khuner
Director:   Mark Streshinsky

Sara LeMesh: Bess McNeill (soprano)
Robert Wesley Mason: Jan Nyman (baritone)
Kindra Scharich: Dodo McNeill (mezzo-soprano)
Alex Boyer: Dr. Richardson (tenor)
Kristin Clayton: Mrs. McNeill, Sara's mother  (soprano)
Brandon Bell: Terry (bass-baritone) 

Breaking The Waves (2016), music by Missy Mazzoli, libretto by Royce Vavrek, was presented by West Edge Opera at The Bridge Yard in Oakland on Saturday night.  We are in rural Calvinist Scotland in the 1970s.  I think we may assume this was around the time that oil was discovered in the North Sea.  They keep referring to "the rig" which we may assume is an oil rig off the shore.

The community, or the ones in charge at least, do not like outsiders.  Sara, a child of the community, has fallen in love with Jan, a worker on the rig who is from Norway.  Dodo is another outsider who was married to Sara's brother who died.  Dodo and Sara are close.  Jan and Sara marry and are happy at first.  Soon Jan must return to working on the rig.  People don't think these things through.

The atmosphere was well captured by the production, and atmosphere is almost all there is.  Church fathers hover over everything.  Sara is very religious and prays constantly.  Unexpectedly, God answers through her.  This is a really tough part.  Jan is injured and asks Sara to go out and have sexual experiences and report back to him.  Her personality gradually disintegrates.  This is a true tragedy.  Her casket is sent out to sea, the only reference to waves. 

The music is pleasing and was well performed.  The orchestration included a synthesizer and an electric guitar.  My favorite of the singers was Kindra Scharich, but I usually go for the mezzos.

The Bridge Yard is very hard to find and very close to the freeway.  Most of the time the sound from the freeway was not disturbing.  The acoustics were not favorable to light voices.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

SFO Emerging Stars 2019

Here are the nominees for this year's emerging stars at the San Francisco Opera:

  • Golda Schultz (soprano) Clara in It's a Wonderful Life (didn't see this cast)Met 2017, Salzburg.
  • J'Nai Bridges (mezzo-soprano) Carmen in Carmen. Last year Girls of the Golden West
  • Daniel Johansson (tenor)  Matteo in Arabella (debut).
  • Rachel Willis-Sørensen (soprano) Rusalka in Rusalka.  I missed this.
  • Christina Gansch (soprano) Dorinda in Orlando (debut).
  • WINNER!  Andriana Chuchman (soprano) Mary Hatch in It's a Wonderful Life. Met 2014
  • Hye Jung Lee  (soprano) The Fiakermilli in Arabella.
  • Sasha Cooke (mezzo-soprano) Orlando in Orlando.  Met 2007.

I was most impressed by our mezzos J'Nai and Sasha, but everyone loved Christina.   Vote here.


Monday, August 05, 2019

Orfeo & Euridice


Conductor:  Christine Brandes
Director:  KJ Dahlaw

Orfeo:  Nikola Printz
Euridice:  Maria Valdes
Amore:  Shawnette Sulker

Orfeo & Euridice by Gluck played at West Edge Opera's current venue The Bridge Yard in Oakland.  A lot of fuss was made about the female/female pairing, but this is pretty common in opera. My problem was that nothing at all was made of the fact that the character Orfeo is a singer, probably a celebrity.  Oh well.  I enjoyed the singing.

Research tells me that this was the original 1762 Viennese version of this opera with an aria for Amore interpolated from the later 1774 Paris version. So nothing fishy.  In the original version Orfeo was sung by an alto castrato and wasn't sung by a woman until the much later 1859 version.

This opera is supposed to be revolutionary, but it never seems so to me.  Perhaps it is the Viennese context that makes it so.  Gluck's early career was as a standard Neapolitan opera composer whose operas were endless strings of da capo arias.  In this opera there are long scenes resembling recitativo accompagnato, but no detectable da capo arias.  We are back to Cavalli more or less, except now everything is tonal. 

A very long portion of the opera is taken up with ballet.  In the second part it is Orfeo avoiding looking at Euridice which doesn't really work theatrically.  For our eyes we don't see the revolution.  French opera never fell into the all da capo aria trap.

If I Were You

Jake Heggie coaching the two Brittomaras.  The pearl cast left, emerald right.

Conductor:  Nicole Paiement
Director:  Keturah Stickann
Librettist: Gene Scheer

Brittomara (Mephistopheles): Brennan Blankenship
Fabian (Faust): Nicholas Huff
Diana (Gretchen): Anne-Marie MacIntosh
Selena: Elisa Sunshine
Putnam: Rafael Porto
Paul: Timothy Murray
David: Brandon Scott Russell
Rachel: Edith Grossman
Jonathan: Edward Laurenson

If I Were You by Jake Heggie was commissioned for and presented by this summer's Merola Opera Program at the San Francisco Opera. This is the first work commissioned by Merola, and this is its world premier.  The one requirement is that there must be a lot of roles.  The first four characters were double cast and ours was the emerald cast.  I'm going to try to explain this.

There are a few theatrical elements that need to be explained.  Brittomara appears various times throughout the opera in different outfits but always with red hair.  She is an ambulance attendant, an auto mechanic, a waitress, etc.  There are electrical flashes that seem to be entertaining but meaningless.  My friend and I discussed this at length and finally concluded that this was the device with two paddles that medical professionals use to revive someone whose heart has stopped.  Brittomara refuses to let Fabian die because she wants his soul.

We also argued over whether or not this was a Faust plot.  The final plot element that requires explaining is the major plot element.  Fabian falls for Diana, named for the goddess, whom he meeds at the auto mechnic.  Initially she takes no notice of him.  He gives the devil his soul in order that he may become someone Diana would be interested in.  Most of the other characters are his reincarnations.  There are magic words and loud flashing sounds when the transfer takes place.

So "If I were you" followed by advice, advice, advice, isn't it at all.  It's if I were actually you and robbed you of your soul.  For me it almost worked.  I enjoyed the part after the intermission more than the earlier parts.  Our Diana, Anne-Marie MacIntosh, I enjoyed very much, but now that we've settled the argument, I'd like to see it again.

Moral of the story:  don't give away your soul.  It's the best thing you've got.