Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Critics on the grass alas

How pleasurable it is that the 1928 Stein/Thomson opera, "Four Saints in Three Acts," can still inspire both worship and outraged indignation. (Pictured above in the Ensemble Parallele production are left to right Michael Strickland, Heidi Moss, Eugene Brancoveanu, Charlie Lichtman, Joe Meyers and Maya Kherani.)

The longest, funniest, and best informed essay is by Patrick Vaz at Reverberate Hills where he coins the newly classic phrase:

"The St Ignatius of Eugene Brancoveanu...was particularly fine – vibrant and sensitive and pointed – in Pigeons on the grass, alas, which is the Nessun Dorma of avant-garde opera."
Also appreciating the recent production was composer and writer Charles Shere at Eastside View:
"It's one of the great operas not only of the 20th century but of any, and productions are rare, and this one is worth seeing."
(Pictured above are left to right Brendan Hartnett, Heidi Moss, Jonathan Smucker, and Eugene Brancoveanu.)

Two other writers were similarly amused by the production and the piece, Cedric at SFist and Charlise at The Opera Tattler. (Pictured above are Kalup Linzy and the ensemble in Luciano Chessa's prologue opera A Heavenly Act.)

Thankfully, it wasn't all kittens and roses. Joshua Kosman, the classical music critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, was "livid" after Sunday's performance, according to a friend sitting nearby. He starts his review with:
"Four Saints in Three Acts," the cloying little theatrical concoction by composer Virgil Thomson and librettist Gertrude Stein, is the grade-school pageant of the operatic repertoire. You don't so much attend to it - at least not if you're an adult - as pat it on the head, coo indulgently and wait for it to be over already."
And though he bends over backwards to be kind to some of the singers and the production, it's clear Mr. Kosman doesn't quite get Gertrude Stein and hates the simplistic sounding music. He's certainly not alone in that view, and in fact half the cast felt the same way going into rehearsals, but the opera has an amazing, powerful charm when you live with it every day. Forty-eight hours after the last performance and I am still dealing with all the lovely earworms that arrive unbidden in my brain. Patrick and Charles are right, it's a great piece.

(Pictured above are Michael Strickland and Michael Harvey about to fry Eugene Brancoveanu in the electric chair.) The great production rehearsal photos above are by Steve diBartolomeo.


Lisa Hirsch said...

I'm about to put up a posting about how much I liked it. I can't go into a lot of detail, because I'm not quite sure WHY I liked it so much, but I did!

sfmike said...

Dear Lisa: Good for you. And I'm not quite sure WHY I liked it so much either, but I did. It may be because the words and the music work together in an almost alchemical way.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Yes - it must have been such fun to perform.

Ced said...

You did not mention Janos quip about people putting in so much for so little. Ouch.

Ced said...

Also: I love the commenter at SFgate who described the work as "throataciously thrilling."

sfmike said...

Dear Ced: Yes, poor Janos. Thank god they are doing "Turandot" for him at the San Francisco Opera.

namastenancy said...

I had my reservations but you were obviously born to be bad in black.