Wednesday, March 02, 2011
The Triumph of Ensemble Parallèle's "Orphée"
When you are working as a member of a stage production, it's almost impossible to predict how it will play to an audience. After three weeks in daily rehearsals of Philip Glass' 1993 chamber opera "Orphee" at various locations around San Francisco, we finally had three days of rehearsal in Herbst Theatre before a Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon run. (All production photos are by Steve DiBartolomeo and backstage photos by Mike Harvey.)
I was apprehensive about the show for a number of reasons, principally because the production conceived by director Brian Staufenbiel (above, surrounded by three supernumerary clowns from the Underworld) was so ambitious.
It involved complex video projections, scrims and props being flown in and out, a descending orchestra pit with a live orchestra playing on it, circus artists hanging from the ceiling and spinning on the floor, and a dangerous feeling set.
Plus, Herbst Theatre is a nice setting for music concerts and lectures, but in 30 years of attending chamber opera there, the theatre has always defeated any production I have seen with its lack of backstage and wings, along with a primitive lighting set-up.
Staufenbiel's solution was to use every inch of the stage, along with side exits to the left and right of the stage, and a few of the audience boxes for lighting and video, all of it orchestrated by stage manager Darin Burnett (above center) as the calm eye at the center of the storm.
The result, to everyone's intense relief and happiness, was a complete triumph. Audience members whose opinion I trusted were glowing after Saturday night's premiere, and confirmed that the show was special.
Though Allan Ulrich didn't like the opera itself and Georgia Rowe was wishing the production was closer to the mood of the Cocteau film, the remainder of the reviews have been ecstatic.
Steven Winn at the San Francisco Chronicle started his rave with "Ensemble Parallèle, a San Francisco company devoted to contemporary chamber opera, scored a full-on triumph over the weekend with two performances of Philip Glass' "Orphée" at the Herbst Theatre. Ravishing and delicate, haunting and playful, somber and romantic, the production fused story, music and stagecraft into an engrossing evening of music theater."
The best unpaid arts writer in the Bay Area, Patrick Vaz, wrote "there’s a good chance that this production is theatrically and conceptually more striking than any other operas we’re going to get around here." Axel Feldheim wrote, "The entire cast was great, & anytime anyone opened their mouths a beautiful sound came out."
Also adding to the chorus of acclaim were Charlise at The Opera Tattler, Emily Hilligoss at SF Weekly, and Cy Ashley Webb at Stark Insider.