Saturday, June 03, 2006

Muslim Opera?

Why shouldn’t a Muslim enjoy opera? Especially one that’s written about a Muslim?

This week I went to two operas. The San Francisco Opera production of “Madama Butterfly” and the Oakland Opera Theater’s “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X”

Madama Butterfly is a nice opera, although horribly overdone. No fault of the cast (Good, not brilliant.) Give it a rest!

San Francisco Opera is one of the top companies in the US. As such it has huge budgetary obligations as well as huge resources. Those obligations force it to stick mostly to mainstream operas that bring in large audiences tending to the lowest common denominator of opera fans, which means doing a few very popular operas very often and not taking big artistic risks. Pamela Rosenberg tried the risks and after a few years decided she’d rather go be in Germany close to her grandchildren. Yeah, right. The new general director offers some promise. I’ll keep an open mind, but let’s please not OD on Puccini! (I like Puccini, but enough already!)

Malcolm X was a real treat, even if the writing and composition of it is a bit uneven. As a small company with a small house they are able to take artistic risks, to innovate, and to bring in operas that are daring, off-beat, and appealing to a more independent crowd. I’ve enjoyed very much their productions of Philip Glass’ “Akhnaten” and “Four Saints in Three Acts” by Vergil Thompson & Gertrude Stein. The cast includes some excellent singers, especially Duana Demus as Malcolm’s mother and Joseph Wright as Malcolm. (Mr. Wright usually sings with the San Jose Opera which has an excellent reputation for finding and grooming brilliant young voices. It truly is the place to see tomorrow’s stars today. ) Ms. Demus is also very charming and gracious off-stage! She will be performing in the San Francisco Lyric Opera’s production of Il Trovatore in September. Details at

Oakland Opera Theatre, with its technical innovations, clever staging (brilliant use of a small space!) and selections of little done operas that carry big ideas, is a pioneer of 21st century opera. They don’t follow the conventions (such as they are) of the European regie-theatre techniques that are so popular over there and generally derided as “euro-trash” in the states. Actually I like those general principles and have seen some brilliantly successful regie-theatre productions. But Oakland Opera is in another direction using very American

While discussing local opera companies I should mention Palo Alto’s West Bay Opera which is based in a very tony suburban community not far from Stanford University. They make excellent use of the local resources and produce some excellent operas. Berkeley Opera is in a similar position and a more free spirited locale where they also take some innovative directions, especially with updating librettos in translation. In July Berkeley will be doing “Girl of the Golden West,” yeah, Puccini, but it’s rarely done and I’m looking forward to seeing it for the first time.

If you can, go see “X” and you may see why I insist that the Oakland Opera Theatre is one of the most exciting opera companies around.

1 comment:

Love.Peace.Love.Peace said...

did you ever hear mozart l'egyptien? it's wonderful.