* Notes *
San Francisco Opera and Cal Performances presented the world premiere of Nolan Gasser's The Secret Garden (Act II pictured left, photograph by Betsy Kershner) last night in Berkeley. The music features a tiny ensemble of ten instrumentalists, lead by conductor Sara Jobin. The rhythms employed are of interest, particularly in the prologue, which is set in India. Carey Harrison's libretto has some awkward moments, somehow the narrative of the book does not always work well as sung text. This is evident in the Cholera scene and when Colin sings about how he will live to adulthood. Other parts are more successful. The letter scene between Susan Sowerby and Archibald Craven is quite beautiful. The production, directed by José Maria Condemi, moves along nicely. The costumes are of the period, and are perfectly serviceable. Naomie Kremer's hallucinatory visual designs range from cartoonish to Impressionistic.
The singing has much to recommend it. Ao Li (Ben Weatherstaff), Erin Johnson (Mrs. Medlock), and Laura Krumm (Martha Sowerby) all made charming contributions to the performance, both vocally and dramatically. Tenor Scott Joiner was a winsome Dickon, but had some trouble with the high notes in his first duet with Mary. Philippe Sly impressed as Archibald Craven, and his aforementioned duet with Marina Harris (Susan Sowerby) was splendid. Boy soprano Michael Kepler Meo convinced as spoiled, sickly Colin Craven. His voice is pretty, but the amplification used was obvious and slightly distracting. Bright-voiced Sarah Shafer deftly portrayed Mary Lennox. Her sound is pleasant and her acting was not overwrought.
* Tattling *
There were many children in attendance, and for the most part, they were more well-behaved than the adults. Two women in Row P Seats 5 and 7 of the Orchestra Level talked repeatedly during the music when there was no singing. Oddly, they knew the maestra, and vehemently cheered her when she took her bow.
One of the boys in Row N was the son of either the composer or the librettist and he was absolutely delighted to see his father during the ovation. His enthusiasm was adorable.