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November 2018

Opera Parallèle's The Little Prince

Lp_dress1_3895* Notes * 
Opera Parallèle revived last year's production of The Little Prince this weekend at the Marines' Memorial Theatre. The opera is perfectly charming and the feminist twist of having mostly female principals worked well.

I had a better appreciation for Nicholas Wright's libretto this time around -- it is concise -- condensing some 90 pages of text into showing us the story rather than telling it to us. Composer Rachel Portman is instrumental in all of this, naturally, and the music is both lovely and engaging. 

It is always a joy to hear conductor Nicole Paiement, even if the ensemble only had a pianist and percussionist, it never felt anything less than lithe and completely together.

The members of the San Francisco Girls Chorus as stars and birds sounded otherworldly, as did our title role Little Prince, Erin Enriquez (pictured with Christabel Nunoo as the Snake, photograph by Steve DiBartolomeo). Enriquez has a bell-like sweetness that was only occasionally marred by staticky feedback from her microphone. In contrast, it is not surprising at all to see that mezzo-soprano Eve Gigliotti (The Pilot) is singing Siegrune in Die Walküre at The Met this spring, she has a fabulously dramatic voice.

Mezzo-soprano Kindra Scharich is a delight as The Fox, her warm, supple sound suits the role. Soprano Sabrina Romero-Wilson sang the vain, silly but lovable Rose with clarity, while soprano Maggie Finnegan was quite haunting as The Water. Soprano Christabel Nunoo sang The Snake with both beauty and menace.

Of the quartet of male singers, all of whom sang various grownups found on neighboring asteroids 325 to 330, tenor J. Raymond Meyers is most memorable, partially because he plays a catchy kazoo tune, and partially because he is dressed as Elvis. Baritone Zachary Lenox is funny as The Businessman counting his stars, as is bass-baritone Philip Skinner as a King who doesn't have much power at all. Tenor Samuel Faustine is endearing as The Drunkard and the hapless Lamplighter who suggests Earth to the Little Prince.

Hats off to director Brian Staufenbiel for a very attractive production that doesn't try to slavishly mimic Saint-Exupéry's illustrations. The visuals are courtesy of Matt Kish (best known for his Moby-Dick monograph) and David Murakami, the look is much more urban and contemporary than the original book.

* Tattling * 
This was my four year old son's first full opera performance excluding those he was present for in utero. He is a nervous little boy with sensory processing sensitivity (in fact, he hid during a rendition of "Happy Birthday" earlier that day) so we did a lot of preparation, including reading the book and watching the opera beforehand on YouTube. He seemed to like the experience and was very quiet and still for the full 95 minutes.

A couple near the front and middle of the orchestra level brought their toddler and baby, but got to the performance late and had to leave early, as the baby was crying during Act II.


Ars Minerva's Ifigenia in Aulide Review

Ifigenia-2018* Notes * 
Ars Minerva was back at ODC with Giovanni Porta's Ifigenia in Aulide last weekend. This opera, premiered in 1738 at Shrovetide in Munich, is in many ways the typical Baroque opera with an elaborate plot based on a classical subject. The music certainly is beautiful and was vibrantly performed here.

The most famous opera using Euripides original drama is of course Gluck's Iphigénie en Aulide, and Porta's version also changes the tragic ending, but the music (written more than three decades before) is rather frilly in comparison.

The music is pretty and the small orchestra, lead by Derek Tam, played with a fresh brightness. There was much lovely singing from the eight soloists, including artistic director and founder of Ars Minerva Céline Ricci, whose mezzo-soprano is clear and powerful as Achille. Countertenor Matheus Coura makes for a very sensible Teucro, while soprano Cara Gabrielson is a robust and very emotional Elisena. Tenor Kevin Gino had the slightest strain at the top of his voice, but otherwise is quite a convincing Ulisse, doggedly after Agamennone to sacrifice his own daughter for the greater good.

Mezzo-soprano Nikola Printz in turn was a strong Agamennone, with lots of color to her voice and some gorgeous low notes. Her singing with sopranos Shawnette Sulker (Clitennestra) and Aura Veruni (Ifigenia) was particularly good. Sulker has never struck me as a natural fit for Baroque opera, perhaps because I've heard her in more contemporary pieces, but her bird-like sound works well in this. She is a fine actress, her mastery of side-eye got a few laughs in Act II as she comes upon her daughter's supposed rival. Veruni has a clean, light voice and makes for a noble Ifigenia.

Ricci's production used all the characters plus a supernumerary in purple robes and tragic masks as a near constant presence. It was effective, and the semi-staging seems to refer to the lack of set besides the background video projections and a large rock in one scene of Act III.

I enjoyed the pleated velour athleisure worn by the male characters, the women's one-sleeved velour gowns were somehow less fun. There were also a lot of sequined capes.

* Tattling * 
I attended the Saturday performance with a group of young people that was coordinated by the secretary of the board of Ars Minerva. Somehow many of us managed to wear dresses that matched the dark red and black program.

The woman in B 13 spoke to both of the people next to her throughout the performance, but otherwise it was a fairly quiet audience. There was noticeable attrition after Act II, perhaps because the opera was three hours and 15 minutes long.