Monday, May 16, 2016

kallisti Noon at Dusk, diversionary and Great Scott

Apparently, Google has planned to drop the photo storage and add capabilities of this blog system for quite some time. I guess I was standing behind the door when the news came my way. Until I figure out my alternatives I'll be posting without photos. I suppose there are worse things, but right now I can't think of any, at least blogwise. I'm not the only one.

May 28: I've gone through all kinds of machinations and now, when I went to post a new blog today, everything is as it was. So herewith, a photo of Noon at Dusk for you and a reprieve for me.

My ‘terrifying’ weekend in retrospect

Kallisti presents Noon at Dusk

As the Noon at Dusk program states, “Bringing a new opera to life is risky.” Mau 13 I went to the second of three performances of the world premiere opera that took place at UCSD’s Conrad Prebys Music Center’s Experimental Theater over the weekend.

The bigger risk, that the new opera might never be heard again, goes without saying.

One might also say, “Bringing a new opera to life is terrifying.” Terrifying applies across the board, not only to the creators and the artists, but also to audience members that may be stuck in the middle of a row, unable to escape, or perhaps, like those in the front row of the May 7 opening of San Diego Opera’s Great Scott, able to flee. In plain sight of God and everyone, they got up and left.

Sad for them (a bit of schadenfreude for me) that they missed composer Jake Heggie’s incredibly beautiful final quartet, an homage to Richard Strauss titled “It’s Always Been the Song.” But then again, the escapees are probably terrified of Strauss too, even of the sublime Der Rosenkavalier. Sadly, anything that’s not Bohème, Butterfly or Carmen terrifies many operators.

Noon at Dusk

The same cannot be said for the audience that gathered for Noon at Dusk. They were there on purpose -- for the excitement and adventure of hearing a new opera. Flexibility is required. Here both composer Stephen Lewis and librettist Yi Hong Kim tackled their first opera. Although a seasoned composer of other kinds of classical music, Lewis seemed to be exploring the limits of the human voice and in an atonal setting. Notes extending above high C proliferated. Some duets, especially for mezzo and soprano, were truly well written. Unfortunately for Kim, who infused much of her libretto with words of poet Christina Rossetti, the words were seldom understood.

Ashley Cutright and  and Kirsten Ashley Weist
as the upwardly mobile architect and her lover.

Sopranos in the extreme of their top voices do not easily convey text, and there were no supertitles. The text (about 30 percent) that I was able to understand was sung by baritone Jonathan Nussman as Eliot and bass-baritone Philip Larson as Eliot’s boss. Distaff were impressive vocally, mezzo-soprano Ashley Cutright as Annelise, an architect; soprano Kirsten Ashley Weist as her lover, a librarian; soprano Hilary Jean Young as Lisha, Eliot’s girlfriend; and soprano Tiffany Du Mouchelle as Annalise’s friend, Maya.

Interpersonal relationships of short and longer duration are affected or soon to be affected by change, and neither Eliot nor Annalise, who go for the career advancements, are good at easing the path for the important others, or potential important others, that they will leave behind.

Jessica C. Flores’s lighting and scenic design impressed, especially juxtaposed with Jason Ponce’s projections, which were dependent in part on six little carousels filled with a fascinating array of everyday objects, sometimes shot-through with light and projected on the set’s large white backdrop.

The splendid 13-piece orchestra was conducted by Dana Savada, artistic director of Pasadena Opera. Susan Narucki, artistic director and producer of kallisti, directed.

Kallisti was established by Narucki at UCSD in 2009. It brings together UCSD’s contemporary music grad students and distinguished guest artists to present chamber opera, vocal chamber music and newly commissioned works. A distinguished example is Anthony Davis’s Lear on the Second Floor in 2012.

The weekend summary

Saturday night I attended the world premiere of Charlie Sohne and Tim Rosser’s new musical, The Boy Who Danced on Air. A review will run in this week’s Uptown News. It is set in present day Afghanistan and concerns the practice of bacha bazi, in which older men purchase young boys and train them to dance and also to perform in other ways.

I watched the NPR Frontline documentary The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan Sunday morning. Very bleak. I’m fascinated with these boys, both real and as the play’s authors imagine them. The masters in the documentary made me appreciate the musical’s character, Jahandar, all the more. He is a good man basically. 

As I left the performance of The Boy Who Danced on Air Saturday night, KPBS FM was playing the final moments of Jake Heggie’s opera, Great Scott. The scene is homage to Richard Wagner and kind of capped off my musical week, or so I thought, having experienced kallisti's stratospheric and atonal opera.

Then, on Sunday afternoon, as a belated birthday gift from composer/author/director Rayme Sciaroni, I heard youngsters perform in his Junior Theatre production of The Music Man — with Sebastian Mellen, a 15-year-old 6’3” Harold Hill (!), and a beautiful young soprano, Ruby Ross, as librarian Marian Paroo. Kids seated next to me in booster seats were mesmerized angels, and parents and kids filled most all the seats in Balboa Park’s Casa del Prado Theatre.

San Diego. What a place to be right now! A blessed weekend of terrifying and not so terrifying works, capped off with a reminder of why we’re here. In the words of the Great Scott finale (libretto by Terrence McNally), “It was always the song.”

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