Monday, August 02, 2021

West Edge Opera 2021

I've been to two of this year's three operas at West Edge Opera. I can't report on the third because I'm attending its last performance and my report will be worthless to you. But here's what I thought of the first two:

Elizabeth Cree, by Kevin Puts to a libretto by Mark Campbell. 

This was fantastic in every way. I mean, I can't believe every company in the country isn't performing it. It's got a tightly-constructed and often funny libretto and excellent music; it's in English; it seems very singable; it lends itself to a range of stagings. 

Set in Victorian London, it's about....murder. And yes, it's very funny despite, or because, of that. The entire cast is terrific, with Katherine Pracht as the title character (she is on trial for killing her husband as the opera opens), Keith Phares as John Cree, Samuel Faustine as real-world character Dan Leno, a music-hall performer, Simon Barrad as Inspector Kildare, Leslie Katter as Aveline Mortimer, Christopher Job as Uncle, Ashley Dixon as Doris, J. Raymond Meyers as Victor Farrell, Glenn Healy, Linda Baird, Solas Burke-Lalgee, and Andrew Green as the Ensemble (they had various smallish roles, as a judge, Karl Marx, and George Gissing). 

Everyone was great! The direction is great! (By Sam Helfrich; I hope he'll be back!) Honestly, you want to see this, especially if you're a fan of Sweeney Todd or Kind Hearts and Coronets.

Katya Kabanova, by Leoš Janáček. 

Do I need to do anything beyond naming the composer? Because we should all attend every Janáček opera we can, among other things to persuade opera companies to program his works as much as they program the popular Verdi and Puccini operas. 

That said, I have only seen Katya once before, in a weird SFO production in the 2002-3 season, starring Karita Mattila, and something that didn't stick was what a beautiful score it is.* WEO's physical production is a little clunky, involving a lot of moving scenery around the stage and carrying potted plants on and off stage, but musically about all it lacks is a big orchestra. That's likely not logistically possible, given the venue, and the 29-piece orchestra is likely a financial stretch. 

The music and dramatic values are fine, the singing really superb. Carrie Hennessey was a truly gripping and expressive Katya, Alex Boyer a sweet-voiced Tichon (Katya's weak-willed husband), Kristin Clayton chewing the scenery, in a good way, as his impossible mother Kabanicha, Christopher Oglesby as Katya's lover Boris, the always-great Philip Skinner as Bori's awful uncle Dikoj, Sarah Coit as a gorgeous Varvara, Tichon's sister, and Chad Somers a delightful Kudrjas. Jonathan Khuner conducted, Indre Viskontas directed.

So yeah, I haven't seen Cavalli's Eliogabalo yet, but you know, when are you going to have the opportunity to see anything by Cavalli again? Get a ticket, don't worry about what the published reviews say, and have fun at it.

* Let me note that SFO has only produced this opera three times, and the conductors were Rafael Kubelik, Christoph von Dohnanyi, and Donald Runnicles. Opera doesn't get better than that.


Civic Center said...

I saw the Kubelik version in 1977 with Elizabeth Soderstrom and it was great, except that they performed it in English, which used to be the way Janacek's work was presented in its rare outings in the U.S until the 1980s. Also saw the 2002 version during the Pamela Rosenberg period and the production was one Eurotrash cliche after another. Glad West Edge Opera brought it back.

Lisa Hirsch said...

The first Jenufa in the US, at the Met in the mid-1920s, was performed in German translation!