Monday, April 28, 2014

Opera Parallèle Double Bill

Photo: Steve DiBartolomeo
Saturday night I attended Opera Parallèle's double bill of Kurt Weill's Mahagonny Songspiel and Francis Poulenc's Les mamelles de Tirésias. The 2 works were presented in a continuous 100 minute performance that combined them into a single plot line, set in a Mad Max-like dystopian future. I was kept very busy absorbing all the things director Brian Staufenbiel put onstage, starting with a pre-curtain slideshow of newspapers & magazines from the future. The main scenic element is a large boat on wheels that is pulled on & off stage by the principals, who portray a troupe of travelling players. The Mahagonny Songspiel depicts their plight, & Les mamelles is a play-within-in-a-play that they put on. The 2 pieces complemented each other so well that my ears did not have to change gears when the music moved from Weill to Poulenc and then back again.

Members of the San Francisco Girls Chorus figured prominently as a band of orphans & sang & acted with gusto. They crowd-surfed one of their number, & their chorus of babies was one of my favorite parts of the show. Four supers represented a paramilitary guard, and there were 2 rather sexy dancers. Members of Resound Ensemble were a chorus of desert nomads & had a fair amount of choreography themselves.

Photo: Steve DiBartolomeo
The principals all gave dynamic performances. Soprano Rachel Schutz was sparkling in her sex change scene in Les Mamelles, & her high notes were astonishingly free & bright. Gabriel Pressier was an unstoppable baritone as her husband, his voice ringing & athletic. Tenor Thomas Glenn was an excellent comic actor in various Les mamalles roles, & his singing from atop the boat's mast in the finale of Mahagonny was chilling & taut. Baritone Daniel Cilli's voice was full & authoritative in the prologue to Les mamelles, & he displayed fancy footwork as a dueling gambler.

Mezzo Rene Rapier has a wonderfully grounded voice & an out-going stage presence. The blend of her voice with Ms. Schutz's in Mahagonny was gorgeous. Baritone Hadleigh Adams was engaging to watch as a goofy French policeman in Les Mamelles, & his voice is pleasingly clean & unforced. Baritone Aleksy Bogdanov sounded fittingly dark & infernal as Jimmy in Mahagonny, & I liked his horned headgear.

Conductor Nicole Paiement led a 19-piece orchestra alertly, & its sound was crisp. The ensemble was thin on strings, but I was glad to hear the percussion, piano & harp in the Poulenc. I was completely engrossed throughout the show, which successfully mixed absurdity & gravity. Only one audience member attempted to applaud in the brief space between Mahagonny & Les mamelles, but there was much applause during Les mamelles.

§ Kurt Weill's Mahagonny Songspiel
Francis Poulenc's Les Mamelles de Tirésias

Opera Parallèle
Nicole Paiement, Artistic Director / Conductor
Brian Staufenbiel, Stage Director / Concept Designer
KT Nelson, Choreographer

Rachel Schutz: Jessie/tirésias, La Cartomancienne
Gabriel Pressier: Bobby/le Mari
Thomas Glenn: Charlie/lacouf, Le Journaliste, Le Fils
Daniel Cilli: Billy/presto, Le Directeur
Hadleigh Adams: Le Gendarme
Aleksey Bogdanov: Jimmy/ Le Monsieur Barbu
Renee Rapier: Betty/ La Marchande De Journaux

Members of  Resound Ensemble
Members of San Francisco Girls Chorus

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater
Apr 26, 2014 8:00pm


Michael Strickland said...

A really lovely appreciation. Thanks.

Axel Feldheim said...

It was a really great show!