Previous month:
June 2016
Next month:
August 2016

West Edge Opera's Powder Her Face

Weo-powder-bows-2016* Notes * 
West Edge Opera's 2016 festival continued at the Oakland 16th Street train station Sunday afternoon with Powder Her Face. Maestra Mary Chun conducted Thomas Adès' chamber opera with precision. The production from Elkhanah Pulitzer is characteristically racy but somehow does show a little compassion for these very unlikable characters as well.

The music by Adès is a study in extremes, lots of highs and lows in the vocal lines. It seems very punishing and complicated. At times I found it pretty harsh, but the four singers were massively impressive, and all sounded and looked great. No one was drowned out by the orchestration, even though the musicians were loud, perhaps because we were on the same level as the orchestra and the acoustic of the station is not particularly suited to opera.

Before the performance it was announced that baritone Hadleigh Adams had a tickle in his throat, but it was hard to tell, his singing was strong. He had lots and lots of very low notes and rather high ones, and somehow reached them all with seeming ease. Soprano Emma McNairy also sang with power and nonchalance, hitting all sorts of notes in her upper register without simply sounding like a squeak toy.

Soprano Laura Bohn was a fine Duchess, terribly heartless in the beginning and startlingly vulnerable in the end. I was not expecting to feel sorry for her, but somehow the music and production came together nicely here.

Pulitzer's staging involves nudity, pink lighting, and wigs changed on stage, all elements we saw in her Lulu last year. She even wore Emma McNairy's platinum bob during the curtain call. But it all fit, and it is even clear that the composer himself was influenced by Berg, so it did make a certain sense. The set is simply a hotel room (Number 69, no less) with a sandbank on one side of the floor next to the bed. At one point sand falls onto the stage, the sands of time, doubtless, and the Duchess grasps at it helplessly, certainly the most striking image in the production.

* Tattling * 
I was surrounded by opera lovers that were all fairly quiet, though the man to my left might have fallen asleep for a few minutes during the middle of the first act.

Merola's Transformations

7.19.16_Merola-1148* Notes * 
Conrad Susa's Transformations was performed by the Merola Opera Program at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music last night. Neal Goren conducted the jazz and pop influenced score with aplomb, the music sounded idiomatic. The production from Roy Rallo was very consistent with his style.

The piece is based on ten poems by Anne Sexton, from her book also entitled Transformations. The work consists of re-tellings of Grimm fairy tales, which are already rather dark, and take on an even more sinister meaning here Sexton is wry and very disturbing. Susa's music spreads the lines between eight singers who sing up to thirteen characters a piece. There's a surprising amount of singing together, which is quite nice.

Rallo's production is not, as far as I could tell, in a psychiatric hospital, its normal setting. Act I used only the downstage, everything else hidden behind a white curtain, and looked to be someone's living room with white Rococo style couch and cabinet, with a pink kitchen area stage left. In Act II a cave of grey plastic is revealed, and the couch turned around. As in Rallo's 2011 Barbiere for Merola, there was a lot of tinsel used. Tinsel stands in for Rapunzel's hair and for Rumpelstiltskin's straw spun into gold. The direction had a fair amount of slap-stick to it, a whole apple held in the mouth of Snow White to signify the apple stuck in her throat (pictured above, photograph by Kristen Loken) and straw thrown at the head of the miller's daughter.

The chamber format of the opera and its many parts makes it a good fit for Merola. Unfortunately lead soprano Shannon Jennings, who plays Anne Sexton, was ill. She did remarkably well in Act I, though sang with some strain. Her part was taken over in the pit by Mary Evelyn Hangley, but Jennings continued on stage, acting and mouthing the words.

Soprano Teresa Castillo was a game Princess and Gretel. Mezzo Chelsey Geeting as a plush, lovely sound as the Good Fairy and Witch. Tenor Boris Van Druff was very creepy as Rumpelstiltskin. Also impressive was baritone Andrew G. Manea as Iron Hans.

* Tattling * 
The audience was fairly quiet. There was noticeable attrition after the intermission.