Wednesday, August 31, 2016


Tuesday night I attended Oakland Opera's opening performance of Uksus, a theater piece with music by Erling Wold. The show starts while you're waiting to enter. Actors dressed as Soviet guards asked for my passport, gender & height, which only prompted me to give smart-ass answers. The cast put on a 10 minute ceremony in the lobby involving a young man in a gurney, after which we were admitted into the theater proper.

Music was provided by an on-stage 7-piece band, led by conductor Bryan Nies standing on a platform behind the 1st row of the audience. The cast used a central catwalk extending from the stage, plus performing areas along the sides of the room. The scenario is based on the life & work of Daniil Kharms, a persecuted Soviet Era avant-gardist, who eventually died in an asylum. The action is a pageant of absurdist skits incorporating speech, singing, grotesque behavior & convulsive movement. There was dialogue about pissing, bœuf & meatballs. I found it confusing & after a while stopped trying to follow along.

The cast all gave committed performances & made their nonsensical actions seem purposeful. The singing was attractive. Tenor Timur Bekbosunov had a clean, controlled & pretty sound. Soprano Laura Bohn & mezzo Nikola Printz often sang in parallel, & their voices were nicely in tune & made a beautiful combined sound. I especially liked Ms. Printz's velvety lower register. All the voices were amplified, even though the venue was relatively small. Mr. Wold's music was a vamping mix of jazz, Philip Glass & klezmer & was easy to listen to, though I felt I'd gotten its full range within the first few minutes. The band played comfortably, & clarinetist Beth Custer sang a deep-voiced solo as part of her duties.

The show ran 100 minutes, with no intermission. Lots of people took pictures, & the woman seated next to me made several careful video pans with her smart phone. In the final scene, dodge balls were bowled off the stage, & one landed at my feet. I automatically picked it up, &, because I was in the front row, I momentarily considered I could easily take out any cast member of my choice. It would have been in the spirit of the piece.

Music by Erling Wold
Libretto by Yulia Izmaylova and Felix Strasser

Oakland Opera Theater
Directed by Jim Cave
Conducted by Bryan Nies
Designed by Lynne Rutter

Timur Bekbosunov — Pushkin
Laura Bohn — Fefjulka
Nikola Printz — Our Mama / Stalin
Bob Ernst — Michelangelo
Roham Sheikani — M2
Jim Cave — A Samovar
Sabrina Wenske, Peter Overstreet, Nathanael Card — Border Guards

Beth Custer — clarinet
Rob Wilkins — trumpet
Joel Davel — drums, vibraphone
Diana Strong — accordion
John Schott — guitar
Elzbieta Polak — violin
Lisa Mezzacappa — contrabass

Tuesday 30 August 8pm
Oakland Metro Operahouse
522 2nd Street, Oakland

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