Saturday, February 2, 2013

Fabulous Poppea

Just a quick note today:  run, don't walk, to see West Edge Opera's fabulous Poppea.  

There are only two more shows, Feb. 1 and Feb. 2., so time is of the essence!

With a period chamber ensemble stylishly conducted from one of two harpsichords by Music Source's Gilbert Martinez, WEO has another hit on its hands.  And with now-G.D. Mark Streshinsky at the helm, the company continues to make consistently brilliant artistic decisions in the pieces chosen, how they are updated, and how they are trimmed down.

For Poppea, WEO has pruned the excellent score (by musicologist and conductor Alan Curtis) to Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea into two roughly one-hour acts, and--a canny decision-- left the opera in the original Italian--Gott sei Dank.  This is one opera that I'd rather see in Italian any day.

The singing and acting is uniformly excellent--as the talent pool in the Bay  Area is wide and deep.  Perhaps one of the biggest strokes of genius was to cast the marvelous soprano Christine Brandes as Nerone (Nero).  With soprano Emma McNairy as Poppea, the red-hot onstage chemistry between the two sensually smolders as Poppea seduces her way to an empress' throne, aided and abetted by a hilarious cross-dressing Arnalta (Brian Thorsett)--who looks to do a mean mani-pedi.  Paul Thompson is suitably stoic as an end-of-life, emphysema-stricken Seneca (an interesting touch), and countertenor Ryan Belongie and soprano Tonia D'Amello present an appealing--and much more innocent--couple as foils to Nerone and Poppea.

WEO's productions continue to be don't-miss events.  You can help the company grow, as they've received an NEA matching grant.

Warnings and disclaimers: 1) don't take the younger kids, though--the bedroom scenes and video graphics are relatively explicit for opera; 2) .many of the folks here are friends and acquaintances.

What I'm reading:  Poetry by Ruth Stone, Connie Wanek, and Chana Bloch, Mercedes Lackey's Collegium Chronicles; the newest Thea Stilton Graphic Novel; James Alan Gardner's Expendable.

What I'm listening to and working on: Handel and Caldara cantatas, new music by S.F. composer David Garner (Phoenix, for the JMPP's premiere on April 5 at Old First Concerts), excerpts from Gluck's Orphee (the French 1774 version) for the Vinaccesi Ensemble's concert at the Legion of Honor in SF on March 17 and much, much more.  This is a busy, busy season--and I'm grateful!