I've seen somewhere between eight and twelve Berkeley Opera productions over the last decade plus. The best have been superb, including the marvelous Legend of the Ring, Falstaff, a Magic Flute directed by Barbara Heroux, and David Scott Marley's hilarious adaptations Bat Out of Hell and Riot Grrl on Mars. Others have been worthy forays into very rare repertory, such as Faure's Penelope; some productions haven't worked well (Otello) or have been weakly cast.
In the mid-90s, there was a memorable concert double bill of Bartók’s Bluebeard's Castle and a reconstruction of Debussy's Fall of the House of Usher. Opera houses generally aren't big on double bills, other than the ubiquitous Cav 'n Pag, and it's easy to understand why: each half typically costs much more than half of a standard production to stage, rehearse, costume, and so on. It's a shame, really; there are so many wonderful one-act operas that hardly ever get performed, including the Bartók and the three short Puccini operas making up Il Trittico (also recently staged by Berkeley Opera).
So when Berkeley Opera's 2008 season was announced, I was hugely excited to see a double bill of Bluebeard's Castle and, of all things, Ravel's delightful L’enfant et les sortilèges, which I'd last seen around 1975 in a production at the Manhattan School of Music. The Ravel is more or less in the Metropolitan Opera's repertory, as part of a triple bill, and apparently no one else's. San Francisco Opera did perform it a few times in 1930, on a double bill with....Hansel und Gretel?
In any event, I cited the Berkeley Opera performances in the SFCV season preview in January. I was able to attend a preview of the Bartók the same month, and thought the production promising based on what I heard and saw: solid singing and marvelously fluid playing from conductor Jonathan Khuner.
I caught last Saturday's opening performance and I am thrilled to report that the two productions are a complete triumph. I will try to get some details down tomorrow, but I want to plug the two remaining performances above all.
They're on Friday, May 9, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, May 11, at 2 p.m., at the Julia Morgan Theater, 2640 College Avenue (at Derby), Berkeley. Call 925-798-1300 for tickets.
And just go.