Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Opera San José : Anna Karenina

libretto: Colin Graham
music: David Carlson

Conductor: Stewart Robertson
Stage Director: Brad Dalton

Anna Karenina: Jasmina Halimic
Kitty Scherbatsky: Khori Dastoor
Dolly Oblonsky: Betany Coffland
Princess Betsy: Megan Stetson
Countess Lydia Ivanova: Kindra Scharich
Agafia Mihailovna: Heather McFadden
Konstantin Levin: Michael Dailey
Stiva Oblonsky: Christopher Bengochea
Alexei Vronsky: Krassen Karagiozov
Prince Yashvin: Paul Murray
Alexei Karenin: Kirk Eichelberger

September 11, 2010, 8pm
California Theatre

On Saturday night I was at the opening night of Opera San José, which presented the west coast premiere of David Carlson's Anne Karenina. The company has put a lot of resources behind this show, scheduling 8 performances with 2 casts. The musical idiom is modern, yet tonal, & the sound palette is often glassy & eerie. The music constantly propels, with lots of repetitions of short motives. There are no places for the ear to rest, which is sometimes fatiguing. The libretto covers much of the novel's plot, so the work is in many short scenes that are primarily exposition. I often felt like I was watching a play. Only in 2 brief inner monologues for Karenin & in a final mad scene for Anna does the action stop to explore an emotional state & become truly operatic. Conductor Stewart Robertson was a bit metronomic, but the hard-working orchestra sounded confident in its playing of this very busy score.

That was much fine singing. Soprano Jasmina Halimic has a large, steely voice, & she fully identified with the character of Anna. Kirk Eichelberger has a deep & powerful sound & was dramatically convincing as the stuffy & proper Karenin. Unfortunately, I found myself identifying with his character, which is surely not right. Michael Dailey has an unusual, cushy tenor voice, which was fitting for nice-guy Levin. I also liked tenor Christopher Bengochea, with his clear diction, secure sound & lively characterization of the hapless Oblonsky.

The excellent staging by Brad Dalton was the strongest element of the production. The costumes, furniture & backdrops firmly establish the period. I liked how the characters interacted in naturalistic ways, for instance always facing each other when in conversation. The frequent scene changes were rapid & precisely choreographed. The fully-employed supers not only adroitly shifted props but also established a social context by playing mute servants or train station crowds. The director even found clear & effective solutions for the 2 suicides by train that must occur onstage. Scenes set in the countryside are performed against a particularly gorgeous painted backdrop which has just the right amount of blurry detail.

I enjoyed being with this opening night audience, which was warm & supportive & gave Ms. Halimic a standing ovation. Mr. Carlson was present & looked dazed when he was brought onstage for a bow. I missed hearing the pre-performance recital on the lobby organ, as the person I rode down with mistook the address of Opera San José's office for the California Theatre venue. The neighborhood around the theater is quite active at night. My opera companion & I had to politely turn down nightclub invites as we walked down the block.


lindyspice said...

Thanks for the very flattering review, Axel! I hope that you'll come down to the California again this season, to see another performance by Opera San Jose...

The Opera Tattler said...

I enjoy very much how you obliquely tattle on me in this review. One of these days I will figure out exactly how I am to get to this theater!

Axel Feldheim said...

lindyspice: San Jose is a bit of a field trip for me, but I was very interested to hear the new opera, & the production was very good.

OT: Since Opera San Jose does not actually have their offices in the California Theatre, I suppose it was an easy mistake to make. Having to read the driving directions in german did not make navigation any easier, though.