Pocket Opera

Eugene Onegin at Pocket Opera

2013_08_25 PocketOpera_22653* Notes *
Pocket Opera performed an English language version of Eugene Onegin yesterday at the Hillside Club in Berkeley. Donald Pippin is utterly charming, and his narration and translation of the text were both lively. The production is likewise cute and accessible. Though the playing was not entirely together and the musicians were far from being perfectly in tune, everyone performed with a lot of heart. Part of the problem was that the orchestra was behind the singers, creating a great deal of chaos as far as synchronization. The singing too had flaws, there were swallowed notes, some shrillness or thinness at the tops of certain voices, as one would expect from such a small, local opera company. Nevertheless, there were more than a few moments of intimacy and beauty, and some of these very same imperfect voices were able to sound quite lovely. The chorus was lilting and did well with all the scene changes. Though hearing this opera on a small scale like this might seem a bit peculiar, it is appealing and may make one appreciate the work with new ears.

* Tattling * 
There was a particular person who blocked the entire aisle with his walker, shoving my seat which was neither directly in front of him nor adjacent to his. Since this was fire hazard, an usher had to deliberate with him about putting it somewhere else in the hall during the performance. This same person was unable to understand make out the words as they were sung and unable to see the supertitles. He yawned loudly and at the end of Act I, nearly pulled out the chair under the person in front of him as he used it to stand up. He had the good sense to leave at intermission.

La belle Hélène at Pocket Opera

* Notes *
Pocket Opera opened the 2009 season with Offenbach's La belle Hélène last month in Berkeley, with subsequent  performances in San Francisco. The production was almost cloyingly sweet. Everyone was perfectly adorable, especially the charming pianist and narrator Donald Pippin. The musical values were appropriate for the small venue. Megan Stetson certainly made for a beautiful Hélène, though her voice perhaps lacked richness.

* Tattling * 
The audience whispered a good deal. I had my fill of Offenbach for the week and decided not to hear Berkeley Opera's Tales of Hoffman.

Pocket Opera's Martha

Martha* Notes *
Pocket Opera's 30th season opened yesterday with Friedrich von Flotow's Martha. This company presents opera in English translation with a narrator, a small cast, and a refreshing unpretentiousness. Donald Pippin, the founder and artistic director of Pocket Opera, does all the translations, narrations, and plays piano accompaniment. For Martha, he lead the 8 others in the ensemble of strings and woodwinds.

There were only 13 singers, all of whom were competent. As the Florence Gould Theater is rather small, with only 316 seats, volume was not an issue. Marcelle Dronkers wasn't terribly impressive in the title role, but she did have her moments. Tenor Brian Thorsett sang Lionel sweetly, though his diction could be improved. His voice is lovely, but he doesn't seem grounded in his body somehow. Julia Ulehla made a pretty Nancy, and her voice was nice despite some of her unclear arpeggios.

Perhaps the weakest part of the production was Willa Anderson's costuming, especially in the very first scene. The dresses the ladies wore looked like random prom gowns from the 1980's. Also, the hairstyling could have been improved. Dronkers' bangs and side-ponytail were not becoming to the role.

* Tattling *
The photographer's camera was somewhat loud as he took pictures, but this was nothing compared to the cellular phone that rang at least 10 times during Act IV.