Saturday, August 06, 2011

Caliban Dreams, Berkeley West Edge Opera

I know that it will take me approximately five years to stop referring to West Edge Opera as "Berkeley Opera," since I've been using the latter name for the last fifteen years. After all, lots of people still call Martin Luther King, Jr. Way in Berkeley and Oakland "Grove Street." Name changes are hard!

Anyway, last night to a third-full house - dismaying at the outset - for Clark Suprynowicz and Amanda Moody's Caliban Dreams, a riff on Shakespeare's Tempest. Apparently potential audience members had read the reviews, which I had not, but which I'm told were not good.

If I'd been reviewing, I would have given it a bad review myself. The libretto is messy and dramatically incoherent, variable in tone, from the high to the low, with no apparent motivation. It contains a couple of jarring anachronisms, too. The one I remember is "piano wire." Mmm-hmm, in the early 17th c.?

The plot seems to be: Prospero is about to leave the island. Caliban doesn't want him to leave, because of Miranda, but also wants to kill Prospero. He falls asleep and has many dreams. I am not sure whether he WAKES UP by the end of the piece. I do know that Ariel has three sisters who are trapped inside a tree, and the only way they can be freed is if Caliban breaks Wotan's, er, Caliban's staff. And at the end they are free! So maybe it wasn't all a dream.

The music is certainly competently written and often pretty or striking from moment to moment, but it's also formless. It's more a collection of cabaret-style songs than a coherent whole, and  the style actually gets irritating because, well, they're not anywhere near as good as classic French or German cabaret, let alone, say, Stephen Sondehim's songs. There's no structure to the whole, no real climax or grandeur or sense of getting anywhere. There's a LOT of dialog between the numbers. Closest thing to a real climax was when the sisters came out of the tree....but it wasn't sustained for more than 30 seconds.

The singing was fine, though you have to believe that the veteran tenor John Duykers was chosen in part because of the aged condition of his voice; the orchestra was lovely; Jonathan Khuner did what he could to move along a collection of songs all written at tempo moderato. (Hmm.) 

Summing it all up: If you're thinking of going to the last performance and you don't have a ticket, pick up a copy of Thomas Ades's wonderful opera on The Tempest instead.

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