Cal Opera festival closes with new title and a classic
California Opera is closing out its three-weekend summer festival with an exciting new title — along with a beloved classic.
The festival today presents the contemporary opera “Ocean Dream.” And on Sunday, a fully staged performance of “Carmen” will close the festival. Both performances are free. (Details: calopera.org, (559) 225-6737.) Here’s a rundown.
– “Ocean Dream,” 7 p.m. Friday, Fresno Art Museum, 2233 N. First St.
Each year the festival’s artistic director, Edna Garabedian, selects a modern title never before staged in the area. This year’s offering, “Ocean Dream,” is by the Greek-American composer Victor Kioulaphides.
The concept is abstract and intellectually charged: A young girl (sung by Zaroohi “ZZ” Nixon) is dancing in the ocean when she meets an older woman (Ioanna Sfekas-Karvelas). It turns out that they’re both halves of a whole, representing the dichotomy of humanity: positive and negative energy.
“During the course of the opera, each one discovers she cannot live independently of the other,” says Sfekas-Karvelas.
The premise might seem to lend itself to a dissonant score, but that isn’t the case. Influences of Ravel and Debussy are strong, giving the music an impressionistic sensibility, with Greek rhythms thrown in, Sfekas-Karvelas says.
“I even do a Greek dance at one point,” says the soprano, who visits the festival each year from her home in Greece.
– “Carmen,” 2 p.m. Sunday, Mercedes Edwards Theatre, 902 Fifth St., Clovis.
Garabedian is pulling out all the stops for her festival closer this year. A cast of 60, including 15 local flamenco dancers, will be accompanied by an orchestra conducted by opera veteran Jonathan Kuhner.
The production, sung in French and done in classic recitative style without dialogue, will be traditionally staged but have a subtle cutting-edge flair, Garabedian says. One of her concepts is to use dancers from Fresno’s Academia de Arte Flamenco, directed by Ricardo Ramirez, during the entr’actes, or musical interludes before the performance and between acts, that often are cut from Bizet’s score. The dancers will offer a dreamy foreshadowing of the opera’s storyline.
The result: The title character of Carmen, played by Xiaohua Song, will be imbued with a sense of predestination as she marches forward to the opera’s notably tragic ending. This Carmen is no-nonsense — and she’s in control. Opera historians have debated for centuries whether Carmen takes an active or more passive role in her destiny. Garabedian hopes to convey a grand, heroic sense to Carmen’s journey.
Along with the foreshadowing, the director also hopes to bring a cultural authenticity to the performance.
“This Carmen plays her own castanets,” Garabedian says proudly.
– I attended California Opera’s Sunday performance of “La Sonnambula” at the Mercedes Edwards Theatre. It wasn’t the strongest title I’ve seen at the festival in recent years, but it’s impressive how much progress the participants can make putting on a fully staged production in three short weeks.
Jamie Bonetto thrilled the audience with the vocal gymnastics required for the role of Amina, the sleepwalking heroine. I was most impressed with two performers: Merina Amos as the scheming Lisa; and Matthew Acuff as the earthy Count Rodolfo. Donald Squillace, as the jealous Elvino, had some obvious vocal issues as the result of illness, but he soldiered on. That’s all you can ask: that the show goes on.
By Donald Munro