Monday, April 19, 2010

Okay. I Admit That Wasn't Fair.

Here's what prompted the previous posting: I saw The Tender Land Friday night at Berkeley Opera. And it is one big long snooze. The plot has almost no drama in it; the plot point with the most dramatic potential turns out to be a big McGuffin. It should have been milked for everything, but is not. Instead, it just evaporates and you see that it was a distraction, and never very important.

Those two young people described as "suddenly falling in love" in the synopsis? Ohman. There's a way to make that kind of magic happen - see the first act of Boheme starting where Mimi knocks on the door of Rodolfo's garrett - but Copland, no Puccini he, doesn't.

I admit that the surprisingly slack conducting from Philip Kuttner did not help. The orchestra played at something around mezzo-forte the whole way through, and the tempos ranged from andante to moderato. There just was not enough variation, and I can't believe that there isn't more contrast in the score.

Maybe it was my seat or maybe it was Berkeley Opera's excellent new digs at El Cerrito High, where I can complain about the weird seats and the carpeting that hides the steps in the theater, but that's it. Sightlines and acoustics appear excellent; the stage is spacious; they can finally fly in scenery, and there are real wings.

The singing was perfectly fine, and young Amy Foote, who sang Laurie, has a lovely voice with an excellent high register. The staging was straightforward and reasonably effective. I'm just sorry the cast didn't have a better opera to work with.


Anonymous said...

It wasn't fair, no. I like much of Copland's work very much indeed, but I have little time for The Tender Land. Of the noted American ballad operas, it is the least. You will notice that I didn't go.

(And ... El Cerrito? Just enough further away from me to make the trip not worth the trouble even for something I'd more want to see.)

Lisa Hirsch said...

Possibly useful information: the total travel time to El Cerrito High is about ten minutes more than to Zellerbach, Hertz, or the Julia Morgan Theater.

Anonymous said...

Copland may not be the most overrated, but he must be overrated by some, if they bother to put on weak stuff like that. It is as if the Berkeley Symphony decided to program Carter's mindlessly derivative Holiday Overture (no wonder Carter went in the direction he did - he was unable to compose mainstream music worth hearing, and probably figured out that his only viable career choice was in composing music that would baffle all but the jaded and leather-eared "experts", and sure enough, that was a very smart move).

Joe Barron said...

"Carter ... was unable to compose mainstream music worth hearing."

Musicans Wrestle Everywhere not worth hearing? The Pastorale and the Elegy and Canon for Saxophone Quartet and the Piano Sonata and Voyage and the Frost songs and the Minotaur and the Wind Quintet and Heart Not So Heavy as Mine not worth hearing? Oh me oh my.

Anonymous said...

re El Cerrito: Not only ten more minutes, not from the direction I'm coming from, not when traffic is heavy (as it would be for any evening performance). And there comes a point where even ten more minutes becomes not worth the trouble. Every concert attendance is a balance between desire and practicality.

re Carter: "Not worth hearing" may be too strong, but for me that's only because I have a generous definition of "worth hearing." Knowing several of the works in question, I would definitely say that, as a 1940s American nationalist, Carter's light did not shine as brightly as many of his numerous fellows'. In retrospect, it's clear that this is because he was working against his grain. Better for him that he then discovered his own natural style, even if I don't care for the results.

Lisa Hirsch said...

calimac, the Carter I know that you're most likely to like includes the Piano Sonata, the first string quartet, and the Eight Etudes and a Fantasy for Wind Quintet. The fantasy is amazing - a fugue incorporating material from the etudes, very rigorous.

Berkeley Opera does perform on weekends, and you might be able to combine performances there with social events or errands in the east bay. The traffic on 880 N / 580 W does get really bad, it is true, and would add to the travel time differential.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I do combine errands when I go to any concerts in Berkeley. But it's an additional burden to then go up to El Cerrito, either on the freeway or clambering over on the surface streets.

I suppose, given exactly where Berkeley Opera now is, that this'd be a good excuse to have dinner on Solano Avenue, but still: the added distance from here is just enough to make it seem too far.

The new auditorium may be better equipped, but what's it like aesthetically? I always liked the Morgan; and these things make a difference to me.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Re-reading odd ends, because Alex Ross posted about a performance of The Tender Land in NYC, and found a question left hanging, about the aesthetics of the El Cerrito High venue used for several years by West Edge (nee Berkeley) Opera.

First thing is that they are no longer using the space on account of cost.

Second thing to note is that although the Julia Morgan has its architectural charms, it was a terrible opera venue for several reasons: tiny pit, no wings, no flies, no traps, very poor backstage facilities and stage facilities. I hated going to the opera there because of awful seats and terrible temperature control, since it was sweltering in the summer.

As for the aesthetics of the El Cerrito High theater, it's fairly plain. Not bad looking, but not Disney Hall and certainly less charming than the Julia Morgan. Still, the pit was big enough, the stage large, the theater facilities very good, excellent sight-lines and acoustics. Comfortable seats, good public circulation space. Except for the matter of charm, superior in every way to the Julia.