Saturday, July 25, 2015
West Edge Opera Preview
West Edge Opera, founded in 1979 as Berkeley Opera, is opening their three-week festival season this Saturday evening with a wildly ambitious roster of three operas in repertory at three non-traditional locations scattered around Oakland. Alban Berg's notoriously difficult unfinished opera, Lulu, is being performed in the abandoned, marble-lined Oakland train station in an arrangement for reduced orchestra by Eberhard Kloke, starring Emma McNairy below as the title siren and a host of great local singers in the many subsidiary roles.
The production even includes the specified palindromic film, created here by Jeremy Knight, for the middle of the opera which marks the end of Lulu's rise and the beginning of her fall.
WEO Music Director Jonathan Khuner is conducting with direction by Elkhanah Pulitzer, and reports from rehearsals have been glowing, though it was noted that the staging is as sexually explicit as the tale demands, so be warned.
The following Sunday afternoon sees the premiere of a new opera, As One, at the Oakland Metro rock club, which is moving from a 3rd Street to 2nd Street location in Jack London Square.
As One is East Coast composer Laura Kaminsky's first opera, an 80-minute chamber piece written for a string quartet and two singers, a baritone and mezzo-soprano playing two aspects of the same character who transitions from male to female. The libretto by Mark Campbell is co-written by filmmaker Kimberly Reed, whose transgender story it tells, and she also provides much of the graceful, accompanying video. The opera had its world premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last September, starring Sasha Cooke and her husband Kelly Markgra, and the reviews were unusually laudatory.
The West Edge Opera production has populated the piece with ten actors playing a variety of roles, including myself as a junior high school teacher lecturing on sex education and poetry. I have no idea how well the production itself will work, but can testify that Dan Kempson and Brenda Patterson as Hannah Before and Hannah After have exquisitely beautiful voices, and they play off each other sensitively. The pit band is the young Friction String Quartet conducted by Bryan Nies, who are sensational musicians in their own right, bringing out every nuance in the Minimalist inflected score.
As if this were not ambitious enough, the company is also mounting one of history's first great operas, Monteverdi's 1640 Il ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria, which recounts the finale of the The Iliad, when Ulysses finally makes it home to Penelope, his wife besieged by suitors. Early music specialist Gilbert Martinez is conducting an eight-piece historically informed ensemble, with direction by General Director Mark Streshinsky who is also directing As One.
The production will open next week at the American Steel Studios, an industrial art space started by sculptor Karen Cusolito, whose huge Burning Man sculptures have been popping up throughout San Francisco for the last five years. For tickets to the shows, click here.