Thursday, April 24, 2014
Voyage to Mahagonny at the Old Exploratorium
The Exploratorium science museum left their old digs at the Palace of Fine Arts a couple of years ago for a state-of-the-art new museum on the waterfront, but it may have been a mistake. The 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition building is a wonder unto itself, something I finally realized after spending last weekend rehearsing Opera Parallèle's upcoming double-bill of Kurt Weill's Mahagonny Songspiel and Francois Poulenc's Les mamelles de Tirésias.
The curving old warehouse is huge, with skylights, monumental statues and detailing galore. Everyone, including mezzo-soprano Renee Rapier above, wanted to move into the place forever.
Opera Parallèle started its career with a world premiere of the final version of Lou Harrison's opera Young Caesar at the Yerba Buena Theatre in 2007 in a surprisingly great production that featured exquisite music-making by conductor Nicole Paiement above, who was a friend of Harrison's in Santa Cruz.
Since then, the company has specialized in daring productions of little-performed contemporary operas, meaning the repertory of the last 100 years that doesn't include Puccini or Richard Strauss. They have mounted productions of a chamber-size version of Berg's Wozzeck, Philip Glass's Orphee, a condensed version of John Harbison's The Great Gatsby, Thomson's Four Saints in Three Acts, Golijov's Ainadamar, and a double-bill of Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti and Barber's A Hand of Bridge. All of them have been directed and conceived by Brian Staufenbeil above, talking to the most excellent soprano Rachel Schutz who is singing and playing Tirésias in a career performance.
The entire cast, through sheer providence, is an unusually good mix, and they play off of each other beautifully, including the talented baritones above: Gabriel Pressier from Florida in the red boots, and Hadleigh Adams from New Zealand as the Gendarme who becomes his gender-bender suitor in Les mamelles de Tirésias.
Another Florida baritone, Daniel Cilla above, is part of the rich stew of this production...
...along with Canadian/San Francisco tenor Thomas Glenn who is consulting above with musical assistant William Long and the virtuoso rehearsal pianist Keisuke Nakagoshi.
Though Opera Parallèle is financed on a shoestring by big opera house standards, they are seriously ambitious and extravagant which is in the very DNA of the art form. This weekend's production at the Yerba Buena Center Theater features a huge contingent from the SF Girls Chorus above...
...the dancers Joseph Hernandez and Vanessa Thiessen...
...and a full adult chorus including Cliff Reilly and Anne Marie Borch above.
Though it is impossible to know how a show is going to turn out before it is actually performed in front of an audience, this one feels special.