* Notes *
West Side Story (Act I pictured, photograph by David Allen) opened at Opera San José last night in a sleek and effective production from director Crystal Manich. It was wonderful to hear Leonard Bernstein's music live with a fresh, youthful cast.
Conductor Christopher James Ray kept the orchestra and singers together, though it could have been bolder and crisper. The drama certainly exuded from the stage, and there was much beauty in the singing and dancing.
Scenic designer Steven C. Kemp's dynamic set worked very well, the scenes seamlessly changed and I liked seeing the different rooms from different angles. It was all quite clever and impressively quiet.
The talented cast is a mix of opera singers, musical theater performers, and dancers. At times I felt a bit disoriented from the difference in singing style and where the sound was coming from, as microphones are used, since it is a musical, after all. Rival baritones Antony Sanchez (Bernardo) and Trevor Martin (Riff) clearly come from the musical theater world, they both moved so effortlessly. Sanchez is a particularly fine dancer and Martin has a lovely, light sound. On the opera singer side we had tenor Jared V. Esguerra as Chino and baritone Philip Skinner as Doc. We didn't get to hear that much of their strong voices, but they ably and sensitively acted their roles.
I very much liked soprano Natalia Santaliz as the soloist in "Somewhere." Her delicate voice singing above the lovers was ethereal and otherworldly.
The ensembles had a lot of spirit. Mezzo-soprano Natalie Rose Havens is a cheeky Anita, she lead the Shark girls in "America" and played off soprano Christine Capsuto-Shulman as Rosalia. Havens was able to show the nuances of her character very clearly, she was completely convincing. She has a splendid, rich voice as well.
The Jets were entertaining in "Gee, Officer Krupke," Jawan Jenkins is endearing as Action. It was all the more disturbing when these same performers harass Anita at Doc's just a little later. The central problems of the piece feel so intractable and realistic.
The leads (pictured, photograph by David Allen) are both powerful singers. Soprano Teresa Castillo is sweet as Maria, she sings with clarity and her duet with Anita in Act II, "A Boy Like That/I Have a Love" was moving. The appeal of tenor Noah Stewart as Tony was undeniable, his resonant tones and tender boyishness were perfect for "Maria" and "Tonight."
* Tattling *
The audience was enthusiastic. Most people did keep their masks on as asked. I did see someone in Row G using her iPhone at the beginning of Act II. I also noted some electronic noise, but nothing too close to me.
As I was turning the pages of the program, I was surprised to see that one of the semi-finalists of the Irene Dalis Vocal Competition this year is from Ürümqi. I rarely see Chinese ethnic minorities like myself in an opera program, so this was notable for me. It makes me very curious to hear soprano Nina Mutalifu when she competes on Wednesday, May 18.