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

Monday, August 29, 2016

Merola Grand Finale 2016

I was remiss in not keeping up with the Merolini this summer, but last weekend I did attend the Merola Grand Finale & heard all of them in one go, in a program of 19 opera excerpts, a sort of graduation exercise for all 29 participants. The concert was semi-staged, with just a few props & pieces of furniture on a bare stage, plus occasional lighting changes.

The performances were uniformly forthright & extroverted. Mezzo Tara Curtis received a shout of "Brava!" for her solemn interpretation of Cassandra's monologue from Les Troyens. Her voice was weighty & often penetrating, & it felt like she had even more in reserve. I probably spent too much time, though, wondering why she popped a balloon full of confetti at the beginning of the scene.

Countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen sounded steadfast & neat in "Che farò senza Euridice?" & ornamented the repeats tastefully. His Orfeo was frustrated rather than sorrowful. Soprano Chelsey Geeting's voice was full & warbling as well as a bit dusky in Antonia's song from The Tales of Hoffman, & her rendition felt aptly remote.

In a duet from Berlioz's Béatrice et Bénédict, tenor Amitai Pati was a dapper Bénédict. He has a pleasing, smooth voice & an appealing stage presence. Soprano Alexandra Schenck as Béatrice sounded bright & youthful. Bass Matthew Anchel sang his prayer scene from Nabucco standing on a couch & sounded soft-edged & benign.

The audience applauded loudly for bass-baritones Josh Quinn & Nicholas Boragno in a duet from La Cenerentola, in which both characters acted clownishly. I liked Mr. Boragno's hearty singing & acting & Mr. Quinn's tight, clear patter. The audience also clearly enjoyed Mr. Pati & baritone Andrew G. Manea in "Au fond du temple saint" from The Pearl Fishers. Mr. Pati's voice was lyric & dreamy, & Mr. Manea's had a nice grittiness & masculinity.

A 3 tier wedding cake was brought on stage right before the scene from Anna Bolena featuring soprano Mary Evelyn Hangley & mezzo Taylor Raven. Ms. Hangley's voice was muscular & solid, & it was nice to hear her sing high notes both loudly & softly. Ms. Raven had a distinctive, somewhat metallic, sound that was open & consistent throughout her range. Their performance was loud & dramatic & received enthusiastic applause.

Soprano Yelena Dyachek sang "Letzte Rose, wie magst du" from Martha with a substantial & commanding sound. Soprano Sarah Cambidge was an aggressive Donna Anna, with an ear-filling voice & big high notes in "Don Ottavio, son morta!"

In Rienzi's prayer scene, tenor Kyle van Schoonhoven's clear & open high notes were immediately striking, & his voice had unusual timbres. He was accompanied by a silent chorus line of women who promenaded behind his back then posed themselves on either side of him. I'm sure bass-baritone Cody Quattlebaum sang his strutting aria from Trouble in Tahiti wonderfully, but all I can remember is that he flamboyantly unwound his man bun during it.

Soprano Teresa Castillo & tenor Josh Lovell had good ensemble in a bubbly duet from Le Comte Ory. Ms. Castillo's singing was pretty, sparkling & precise, & Mr. Lovell's high notes were controlled & secure. He agilely bounded around the stage, & the wedding cake finally came into play when Ms. Castillo lifted its top tier & smashed it in her partner's face.

During the final ensemble for the entire cast, it was very cute to see photos of them taken throughout the summer projected on stage. Conductor Rory Macdonald led with lively gestures, but the orchestra sounded slack & there were synchronization problems between stage & pit. The audience applauded each number supportively, & many gave the performers a standing ovation at the end. The 3-hour show had a start time of 7:30pm, but the lights didn't go down until past 7:40pm, & people were still being seated during the overture.

§ Merola Grand Finale 2016

Conductor - Rory Macdonald
Stage Director - Aria Umezawa

Musical Preparation - Jonathan Brandani, John Elam, Noah Palmer, Nicolò Sbuelz, Jennifer Szeto
French Diction - Patricia Kristof Moy
Italian Diction - Alessandra Cattani

Overture from Die Fledermaus by J. Strauss

"Quando avran fine omai ... Padre, germani, addio!" from Idomeneo by Mozart
Ilia - Shannon Jennings
Fortepiano - Jonathan Brandani

"Linda! Linda! ... Da qual di che t'incontrai" from Linda di Chamounix by Donizetti
Linda - Adelaide Boedecker
Carlo - Isaac Frishman

"Les Grecs ont disparu! ... Malheureux roi! Dans l'éternelle nuit" from Les Troyens by Berlioz
Cassandre - Tara Curtis

"Ecco novel tormento! ... Che farò senza Euridice?" from Orfeo ed Euridice by Gluck
Euridice - Teresa Castillo
Orfeo - Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen
Fortepiano - Nicolò Sbuelz

"Elle a fui, la tourterelle!" from Les Contes d'Hoffmann by Offenbach
Antonia - Chelsey Geeting

"Comment Ie Dédain pourrait-il mourir?" from Béatrice et Bénédict by Berlioz
Béatrice - Alexandra Schenck
Bénédict - Amitai Pati

"Vieni, o Levita! ... Tu sul labbro de' veggenti" from Nabucco by Verdi
Zaccaria - Matthew Anchel

"Se all' impero" from La Clemenza di Tito by Mozart
Tito - Boris Van Druff

"Ma dunque io sono un ex ... Un segreto d'importanza" from La Cenerentola by Rossini
Dandini - Josh Quinn
Don Magnifico - Nicholas Boragno
Fortepiano - John Elam

"C'est toi, toi qu'enfin je revois ... Au fond du temple saint" from Les Pêcheurs de Perles by Bizet
Nadir - Amitai Pati
Zurga -Andrew G. Manea

"Durch Zärtlichkeit und Schmeicheln ... Ich gehe doch rate ich dir" from Die Entführung aus dem Serail by Mozart
Blonde - Jana McIntyre
Osmin - Matthew Anchel

"Dio, che mi vedi in core ... Sul suo capo aggravi un Dio" from Anna Bolena by Donizetti
Anna Bolena - Mary Evelyn Hangley
Giovanna Seymour - Taylor Raven

"Or dove fuggo io mai? ... Ah, per sempre io ti perdei" from I Puritani by Bellini
Riccardo - Josh Quinn

"Nancy! Julia! Verweile! ... Letzte Rose, wie magst du" from Martha by Flotow
Lady Harriet - Yelena Dyachek
Lionel - Brian Michael Moore

"Don Ottavio, son morta! ... Or sai chi l'onore" from Don Giovanni by Mozart
Donna Anna - Sarah Cambidge
Don Ottavio - Isaac Frishman
Fortepiano - Noah Palmer

"Allmächt'ger Vater, blick' herab" from Rienzi by Wagner
Rienzi - Kyle van Schoonhoven

"There's a law" from Trouble in Tahiti by Bernstein
Sam - Cody Quattlebaum

''Ah, quel respect madame pour vos vertus m'enflamme" from Le Comte Ory by Rossini
La Comtesse Adèle - Teresa Castillo
Le Comte Ory - Josh Lovell

"Herr Chevalier, ich grüsse sie! ... Brüderlein, Brüderlein und Schwesterlein" from Die Fledermaus by J. Strauss
Eisenstein - Kyle van Schoonhoven
Frank - Cody Quattlebaum
Rosalinde - Mary Evelyn Hangley
Adele - Jana McIntyre
Ida - Teresa Castillo
Orlofsky - Taylor Raven
Falke - Andrew G. Manea
Chorus - tutti Merolini

Saturday, August 20th
War Memorial Opera House