In The News...
San Francisco Chronicle
Berkeley Opera launches new Business Council
As Berkeley Opera celebrates its 30th Anniversary season, we have launched a new Business Council to partner with local businesses.
We are delighted to welcome the East Bay Express, DeYoe Wealth Management, Fidelity Insurance, Mechanics Bank, Panoramic Interests, Andronico's Market, Berkeley Daily Planet, Judith Bloom, CPA, R. Kassman Pianos, Henry C. Levy CPA, Nectar Consulting Inc. and Pacific Western Mortgage Group as charter members.
Your business can join too:
Call Berkeley Opera's message line at 510-841-1903 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to ask someone to call you to discuss Business Council membership.
Berkeley Opera at Caffé Venezia
Berkeley Opera singers continue the New Year's Eve tradition at Berkeley's Caffé Venezia on University Avenue. Enjoy a special dinner in an evocative Italian setting to the music of your favorite opera arias.
Call Caffé Venezia at 510-849-4681 for reservations.
For other Opera Nights throughout the year see caffevenezia.com.
Berkeley Public Library Events
SPECIAL FREE EVENTS AT THE BERKELEY PUBLIC LIBRARY
Berkeley Opera on YouTube
The Tender Land, 2010. Stomp Your Foot. Choreographed by Jacqueline Burgess.
Don Giovanni, 2010. Igor Vieira. Animation by Jeremy Knight.
The Ballad of Baby Doe, 2009. Jillian Khuner, Torlef Borsting.
The Ballad of Baby Doe, 2009. Torlef Borsting, Alexander Taite, Kenny Louis, Michael Beetham, Wayne Wong.
The Ballad of Baby Doe, 2009. Lisa Houston, Elizabeth Wells, Angela Hayes, Elizabeth Gentner, Cary Ann Rosko.
Berkeley Opera retrospective, excerpts from past productions. Produced in 2008.
The Tales of Hoffmann, 2009. Angela Cadelago and Adam Flowers.
L'Enfant et les Sortilèges, 2008. Animation by Jeremy Knight.
Aïda, 2007. Triumphal March. William Pickersgill, Kevin Courtemanche, Paul Cheak, Jennifer Roderer, Charlotte Khuner.
The Legend of the Ring, 2004. Excerpts illustrating the use of projections.
The Riot Grrrl on Mars, 2002. Overture.
Reviews from Our 2010/2011 season
Legend of the Ring
Review: Bits and pieces of Wagner catch fire in Berkeley Opera's "The Legend of the Ring"By Richard Scheinin
Posted:08/02/2010 02:06:07 PM PDT
EL CERRITO -- No surprise: Not everyone wants to sit through the four exceedingly long operas that comprise Richard Wagner's "Ring" Cycle. And so we have Berkeley Opera's new production of "Legend of the Ring," composer David Seaman's CliffsNotes version of the "Ring of the Nibelungen" and its 16 hours of music -- condensed to three.
Forty minutes into it, the evil dwarf Alberich is already throwing his curse around. Twelve minutes after that, we're into Wagner's "Die Walküre," the second of the four epics. Only, this stripped-down "Legend" version is without the "Ride of the Valkyries," the orchestral hit that most people do want to hear.
It's like fast-forwarding through a digital recording, an Internet Age cavalry charge through Wagner. The grandiosity is gone, as is the pomposity -- and the depth. It doesn't build. It just keeps going. It's myth stripped down to pure story line.
This production at the handsome new El Cerrito Performing Arts Theater -- the next performance happens Wednesday -- isn't afraid to have fun with Wagner, a good thing. There are moments when it's like Wagner meets Tarantino: First comes the foot massage, then comes the murder.
And even if you object to the concept, there's the singing. Director Mark Streshinsky has imported some of his famous Wagner-singing friends, most notably baritone Richard Paul Fink, a celebrated Alberich at major opera houses -- and a man who has had a hankeringto sing the role of Wotan, chief of the gods.
In "Legend," his Wotan bristles. His powerful oak voice is etched with acid.
This raises a bigger point. With the epic sprinting forward, with so few twists and turns in the road, there's no time for becoming in this production. Singers can't get loose or work into anything. Not that singing Wagner is ever easy. But here, from the start, the singers are thrown into the deep end of the pool. So it's interesting to see who sinks and who swims.
Fink swims from the outset. He brings the heat. So does soprano Maria Plette, a veteran of Seattle Opera's "Ring" Cycle; her farewell aria as Sieglinde in the "Walküre" segment of "Legend" is dynamite. (She sings multiple roles, as do all the singers in this reduced cast of eight).
Now, tenor Jay Hunter Morris -- he's Froh; he's Siegmund; he's Siegfried -- was another story. Bland vanilla pudding at the outset, he gradually got grounded, fattened up, and by the end, especially when singing Siegfried's back-story (it's one of the few spots where Seaman has left any back-story to sing) his voice was rich and crooning in its haunted loveliness. And then there's soprano Christine Springer, whose top notes as Brünnhilde began as a shrieking disaster; but she stood her ground, turned it around, wound up carrying the role like a champ.
Other notables included bass-baritones Bojan Knezevic (as Alberich and Fasolt, the giant) and Dean Peterson (the giant Fafner, the killers Hundig and Hagen). Both gave biting and dark performances; they never flagged. As Loge (the fire God) and Mime (brother of Alberich), tenor Stephen Rumph was sleekly limber -- and comic.
The scruffy little orchestra, conducted by Jonathan Khuner, hung in there. The video projections, by Jeremy Knight, are unique; there are no sets beyond a table and two office chairs. Yet the singers move through a virtual world: stars and seas, mountains and a treasure-filled palace.
In the end, "Legend" -- created by Seaman for Nuremberg Pocket Opera in 1990, and first produced by Berkeley Opera six years ago -- has its selling points. It's a curiosity, that's for sure; even the purists might want to check out Seaman's seamless cuts and segues. And for anyone intimidated by Wagner, "Legend" is good preparation -- an easy cram course -- for the real thing, all 16 hours of it, to be presented next summer at San Francisco Opera.
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San Francisco Classical Voice
San Francisco Chronicle
Contra Costa Times
San Francisco Examiner
Interviews with Richard Paul Fink:
San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco Classical Voice
SF Opera Examiner
Opera review: Even a shabbily attired 'Don Giovanni' is a triumph in Berkeley Opera's new venueBy Cheryl North
Contra Costa Times
Posted:02/22/2010 03:14:09 PM PST
Berkeley Opera has done it again. Its new production, Mozart's "Don Giovanni," under the direction of its new artistic director, Mark Streshinsky, in its new venue, the recently finished 600-seat El Cerrito Peforming Arts Theater at El Cerrito High School, proved an artistic coup on its debut performance Saturday night.
The production's utter faithfulness to the music, coupled with a dazzling creativity in interpreting the psychology and spirit of the opera, merit high praise. Streshinsky certainly achieved his stated goal: "to keep things simple for our first venture into this new theater, and to explore this dark drama and hysterical comedy from a human standpoint, stripped of all its trappings."
Admittedly, there were a few flaws. The new venue's expansive stage could have used a bit of imaginative color and a few more props to assuage its barren appearance. The costumes, intended to represent "modern dress" bordered on tawdry. The generally stark lighting made the ample bare human flesh look too pasty, But all of these critiques are a bit extraneous when measured with its overall successes — especially among the cast members.
Baritone Eugene Brancoveanu was nothing short of sensational in the title role of Don Giovanni, the arrogant nobleman-seducer. He used his huskily virile baritone, athleticism and virtuoso acting skills to create a quintessential cad. Facial expressions, body language and grinding rock-star hips all filled out his characterization. Nonetheless, none of these elements overwhelmed his deeply perceptive musicality.
Baritone Igor Vieira sang a wonderfully wry Leporello, while soprano Kaileen Miller created a fine, commitment-shy Donna Anna. Tenor Michael Desnoyers was convincing as Anna's ever-faithful, but ineffectual fiance, Don Ottavio. Soprano Aimee Puentes portrayed an appropriately neurotic, semi-hysterical Donna Elvira; and soprano Elyse Nakajima, a beautiful, flirtatious Zerlina (Stephanie Kupfer will sing the part for the Feb. 26 and 28 performances.) The role of Zerlina's country bumpkin fiance was well acted and sung by William O'Neill. Bass James Grainger was a regally daunting Commendatore.
The orchestra, conducted by Alexander Katsman, and the involved onstage chorus were collectively very good. Overall, acting and stage movement merited A grades.
But, true to Berkeley Opera's reputation, it was the production's thoughtful insights and gleeful wit that added a special pizzazz to the whole. A particularly clever bit was Leporello's use of an iPhone that evoked giant onstage projections of Google maps marking the locales of Don Giovanni's thousands of seductions as an accompaniment to his famous "Catalog" aria, "Madamina, il catalogo e questo." These were followed with projections of female images lifted from the palettes of Leonardo, Renoir, Monet, Degas, and even Whistler's mother.
One of the very best parts of the production were Jeremy Knight's artful projection designs depicting the cemetery and the "marble" statue of Giovanni's victim, the murdered Commendatore, looming out of the entrance of his tomb. Equally evocative were the leaping, licking flames that swallowed the arrogant, unrepentent Don Giovanni into hell. Pity that Knight's skills were not used more extensively to enhance the otherwise stark stage.opera review
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New Era for Berkeley OperaBy Janos_Gereben
A veteran maverick among small opera companies, Berkeley Opera opened an intriguing production of "Don Giovanni" tonight, in a newly built home, with a new artistic director, and showing bright new promise.
There is a conjunction between those elements: debuting artistic director Mark Streshinsky is a graduate of El Cerrito High School, whose new 600-seat theater is now the home of the Berkeley company (ousted from old, cramped Julia Morgan Theater, which wants to pursue more family-values oriented entertainment...:), and Streshinsky is the crackerjack producer/director of "Don Giovanni."
(Jonathan Khuner, previously filling both positions, remains music director, but he has so many engagements around the country that he needed a partner to guide the company.)
From Streshinsky's previous work in Berkeley and elsewhere, it's been long obvious that among young directors, he is one of the most talented, intelligent, innovative and daring. His "Don Giovanni" has added another accolade, perhaps even more important than the others.
He is not relentless.
Most regisseurs of regie opera don't know how to stop. Once they turn things upside down, they keep going, oblivious, relentless. Not Streshinsky.
He can — as he did tonight — do something silly, such as stage the first encounter with Donna Elvira (Aimée Puentes) in a yoga class on the beach. He can also make excellent uses of chairs as multi-purpose "sets."
He then comes up with a mind-blowing Register Aria, Igor Vieira's Leporello culling data from an iPhone, Google Earth projected to a screen to show the countries mentioned, with pins representing the Don's conquests — but then...
Elvira, Ottavio (Michael Desnoyers), and Anna (Kaileen Miller) sing their pivotal, heavenly trio standing still, giving their all to the music — and the music soars unhindered by shticks or gimmicks. At that point, Streshinsky's "transgressions" are forgiven, his good ideas even more appreciated. You may say that this or that is "too much," but the the whole of the production WORKS.
(I am still trying to figure out how the peasant Masetto — William O'Neill — ends up with the best suit in this modern-dress production — yes, it's his wedding, but still — and how Elyse Nakajima's attractive lingerie can serve as a wedding gown. Only talented costume designer Romy Douglass knows.)
Under the baton of Alexander Katsman, an orchestra of two dozen played as accompanist, correctly and well, but without special impact. The fairly good acoustics of the new hall seems to mute the sound from the pit somewhat, but there is no brilliance from the stage either, only something adequate.
And so we come to the Don himself and a remarkable aspect of this production. Eugene Brancoveanu is an able, hardworking, important young singer on the local scene. His voice has a peculiar quality: big, penetrating, rough, on the verge of being hoarse. However musical Brancoveanu can be, that thickness, the "megaphone" nature of the voice, has always meant a distraction for me.
Until tonight. Brancoveanu's "loud singing" and his Streshinsky-directed robust athleticism combined for an overwhelming (anti)hero, a self-destructive force of nature in singing and acting. It's a Don Giovanni you may like or not, but you will remember.
One more thing about Streshinsky: he states his "concept" in the program, and then realizes it in his direction. This is what Khuner and Streshinsky make of Mozart's work:
"It is really about relationships in peril. Every relationship in the opera has a serious problem. Don Giovanni simply brings all those problems to light.
"The problem is a girl who can be lured away from her husband on her wedding day and the man who takes her back. It is a woman who is betrothed to a good man and wants to love him, but knows deep down that there is no real spark between them.
"It is the man who never gives up on a woman he knows does not really love him. It is a woman who is infatuated with the bad boy and never stops believing he will change... All these character surround a figure who is so in love with himself that no one else really matters."
What besides "Don Giovanni" will Berkeley Opera's circa $200,000 annual budget provide in the new theater? Copland's "The Tender Land" and "The Legend of the Ring" (July 31-Aug.8). Thrift, Horatio... and daring.
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San Francisco Classical Voice
Berkeley Daily Planet
SF Opera Examiner
The Opera Tattler
The Tender Land
Berkeley Opera Revives 'The Tender Land'By Georgia Rowe
April 14, 2010
SAN FRANCISCO -- The indifferent fate of "The Tender Land" is one of the most baffling stories in 20th-century music; even audiences who can’t seem to get enough of Aaron Copland's ballets and orchestral scores have held the composer's 1954 opera at arm's length. The work has been as sorely neglected in the Bay Area as in the rest of the country, but Berkeley Opera's affecting new production, which opened April 10 in the company's new home at the El Cerrito Performing Arts Theater, has revived it with much of the radiance and simplicity it deserves.
What is surprising about Elkhanah Pulitzer's production, performed in this congenial 600-seat house by an alert cast and a 13-member orchestra under Philip Kuttner, is how contemporary it feels. The story, about a farm girl whose budding sexuality and longing for freedom are brought to the boiling point when a pair of drifters come to town, is firmly rooted in the Depression. Yet, although Copland himself considered the work a failure (commissioned for television, it was rejected by NBC after the composer was blacklisted in the McCarthy witch hunts), its themes of small-town insularity, sexual repression and youthful rebellion still have resonance for today's audiences.
Pulitzer's spare staging, scheduled for repeats through April 18, suggests, without resorting to homespun kitsch, the open skies and rugged farm country of the rural Midwest in the 1930s (Copland and librettist Erik Johns were inspired by James Agee's "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men," with photographs by Walker Evans.)
Set designs by Chad Owens, handsomely lit by Lucas Krech, evoke the Moss house in a pair of skeletal wood-framed structures, a low picket fence and a single bare tree; the party scene, featuring vivacious choreography by Jacqueline Burgess, unfolds around a rough plank table that runs the length of the stage. Jeremy Knight's videography supplies a black-and-white backdrop of cloudscapes and harvest images; Romy Douglass's costumes favor a subdued palette.
The austerity of the visuals meshes well with the widely spaced chords and tonal harmonies of the score, which Copland described as "very plain, with a colloquial flavor." Couched in the production's striking framework, the score's inner complexity reveals itself in yearning melodies, the use of themes to develop psychological nuance, the touches of dissonance as the story deepens. The cast, for the most part, responded with fluent, assured performances. Soprano Amy Foote, singing with silvery tone and ringing top notes, was the evening's standout; her Laurie, sweetly recessive in the opening scenes, acquired her resolve in dramatically shaded incremental steps. Malin Fritz's warm, richly colored contralto was an asset in the pivotal role of the suspicious Ma Moss. As Martin, tenor Lee Steward exhibited strain, singing ardently but struggling to maintain pitch in the role's upper reaches. Baritone Paul Murray brought the requisite sturdy tone and broad, sex-fueled swagger to the role of Top. Paul Cheak introduced a resonant bass-baritone wedded to emotional eloquence as Grandpa Moss, and Isabella Mercurio gave a graceful performance as Laurie's younger sister, Beth. The chorus sang attractively as farmers and townspeople.
Kuttner lavished considerable affection on the score, leading with vigor, balanced sonorities and, yes, tenderness. The conductor drew particularly delicate, beguiling playing from the woodwinds. Yet he summoned power when needed; in big numbers such as the Act I hymn "The Promise of Living," and Ma Moss's Act II aria "All Thinking's Done," the performance recalled the sublime effect of Copland's great American masterpieces.
Copyright © 2010, Musical America
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Reviews from our 2009 Season
Tales of Hoffmann
Review: Berkeley Opera's retold 'Tales of Hoffmann' captivatesBy Cheryl North
Contra Costa Times correspondent
Posted: 03/02/2009 12:13:36 PM PST
Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann, aka E.T.A. Hoffmann, is certainly one of the most fascinating characters to emerge from a century overflowing with fascinating characters. He has been rendered — if possible — a little more so by the Berkeley Opera.
Born in East Prussia in 1776, Hoffmann became one of the 19th-century's most popular, if slightly macabre, writers. He was, at the same time, a lawyer, composer, music critic, painter, caricaturist and an enduring, although dissolute and unfaithful, husband.
The plucky 30-year-old Berkeley Opera is currently in the midst of four performances of Jacques Offenbach's not-quite-completed 1881 opera, "Les Contes d'Hoffmann" (The Tales of Hoffmann), which is loosely based on the infamous Hoffmann's life.
The Berkeley production benefits mightily from a wittily illuminating update of the Offenbach-Barbier French-language original, written by Berkeley resident David Scott Marley. Marley's version, defined in the program not as a translation, but as an "English adaption," allows ample creative leeway, as well as a reordering of the opera's various elements. While both plot iterations feature Hoffmann as the primary character in an amalgam of three of his own fantastical stories, Marley has endowed his, in a way that other English translations do not, with a pleasing supply of graceful rhyme that melds beautifully and lyrically into Offenbach's music.
Berkeley's Hoffmann, portrayed as a sort of anti-hero writer suffering from "writer's cramp," is sung by tall, dark-haired tenor Adam Flowers. The opening scene sets him and a jolly company of opera patrons doubling as an exceptionally skilled opera chorus, in a basement cafe enjoying drinks during an intermission in the opera going on in the hall above. The glittering star of the opera happens to be Stella, Hoffmann's current mistress, sung by the versatile soprano Angela Cadelago.
Tailing Hoffmann is his benevolently nagging "Muse," disguised as his sidekick, Nicklaus, a sort of guardian angel type who tries to encourage him to write. Mezzo-soprano Nora Lennox Martin, with laudable acting ability, voice and diction, created an exceptionally adept Nicklaus.
The ensuing plot entails Hoffmann's entertaining the assembled group by recounting the tales of his "other" mistresses — the mechanical doll Olympia, the tragically doomed singer Antonia and the heartlessly deceptive Venetian courtesan Giulietta — all impressively sung by the same Angela Cadelago.
Splendid baritone Paul Murray suavely inhabited all four of the evil figures creating havoc and challenging Hoffmann in each of his love affairs. Other roles were admirably sung by Wayne D. Wong, Sara Couden, Patricia Prewitt, George Arana, Brian M. Rosen and Alexander Frank.
Ernest Frederic Knell conducted the fine small orchestra; Phil Lowery created the clever staging; Emilica Sun Beahm did the Victorian "steam punk" costumes and Alex Sardelich provided the Victorian gothic sets.
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The Ballad of Baby Doe
Review: Dire necessity gives birth to an inventive 'Baby Doe' at Berkeley OperaBy Cheryl North
Contra Costa Times correspondent
Posted: 07/13/2009 01:37:05 PM PDT
HARD TIMES, whether economic, social, or political, can often serve as stimulus to human creativity — "necessity is the mother of invention" and that sort of thing. Berkeley Opera's current production, Douglas Moore's "The Ballad of Baby Doe," set to a libretto by John Latouche, offers a vivid case in point.
Composer Moore, known for his tonally melodic and engagingly rhythmic writing in what has been labeled "typical American folk style," based his opera on a true story that took place in rip-roaring mid-19th century Colorado during the heyday of silver mining. It's a rags-to-riches-to-ruin tale of Vermont-born Horace Tabor, who, in midlife, divorces his cold-fish wife Augusta after falling deeply in love with a warm, beautiful, but decades-younger woman, a divorcee named Elizabeth "Baby" Doe.
Berkeley Opera's big problem, according to its artistic director Jonathan Khuner, is the depressed economy. "Our reality-mandated 40 percent cut in the budget has required that the opera take place on a spare stage with just one table and five chairs," he says. It also forced Khuner to assume the duties of stage director in addition to conducting the show.
But, no need to worry. What Berkeley Opera may lack in money, it more than made up for with a heaping helping of ingenuity.
The most impressive, jaw-dropping examples of ingenuity were the breath-taking scenic projections created by Jeremy Knight, abetted by Alexander Kort's lighting wizardry. I marveled at the Knight-Kort set-up: one huge rectangular screen forming the wall at the left side of the stage; four smaller rectangles aligned to suggest a receding perspective of windows veering off on the back of the stage. A large oval-shaped screen was set up on the right front of the stage to alternately accommodate a series of interiors, such as a saloon wall with a "naughty" Victorian painting of Leda and the Swan hanging above the projected rack of bar bottles; a prim parlor wall hung with stripped wallpaper and family portraits; a festively decorated room in Washington, D.C.'s Willard Hotel; or a forest of languid-looking willow trees lit by moonlight.
Who really needs a stage full of lumbering sets and heavy, sometimes awkwardly painted backdrops, when you can have such things as a realistic illusion of boom-town Denver backed by its magnificent ring of sky-high mountains via the ingenious use of artfully lighted scenic projections? High tech to the rescue!
But beyond the opera's romantic love story aspect, the tale deals with the boom to bust former times when the idealistic, thoroughly democratic-minded Midwestern candidate William Jennings Bryan ran unsuccessfully for the presidency against William McKinley, who had the backing of powerful East Coast banks and financial institutions.
McKinley's win, a tragedy for the silver rich Tabors, enabled the country's transfer from a dual silver and gold standard for the American dollar to gold alone. Overnight, the Tabors lost their fortune as well as the friends and status it had attracted.
The role of Horace Tabor, was sung with appropriate gusto by rakishly handsome baritone, Torlef Borsting, who moved convincingly from rowdy full-voice banter at the saloon with his pals to sotto voce crooning to Baby Doe. His love song to her, "Warm as the Autumn Night" was especially beautiful.
Petite, but voluptuous soprano Jillian Khuner, a consummate singing actress, created an endearing Baby Doe. Her ultra high notes, sung pitch-pure at pianissimo levels during her "Willow Song," seemed capable of melting an iceberg or quenching a fire. While her high range soared, her midrange initially suffered from excessive vibrato.
Tall, reed-slim mezzo-soprano Lisa Houston, in her severely cut black gowns, was a convincing Augusta, as her character teetered on the edge of forgiveness, before finally, angrily, falling into an abyss of bitter vengeance.
In addition to a small, skilled chorus and orchestra, there were also two outstanding quartets of singers: Alexander Taite, Kenny Louis, Michael Beetham and Wayne Wong performing with exceptional dramatic and musical polish as Tabor's long-time cronies, and a finely blended group of ladies — Elizabeth Wells, Angela Hayes, Elizabeth Gentner, and Cary Ann Rosko — who seemed to be having great fun acting out the righteous indignation of Augusta's prim lady friends.
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SF Opera Examiner
San Francisco Classical Voice feature story
SFCV interview with Jonathan Khuner
* * * * * * *"Berkeley Opera is one of the more interesting small companies in the nation." - San Francisco Classical Voice (sfcv.org)