Tuesday, June 29, 2010

San Francisco Opera: Giacomo Puccini's The Girl of the Golden West

I'd been trying to get to the San Francisco Opera's production of the Spaghetti Western. The signs looked so festive and fun, besides that, thematically it seemed in keeping with that of Cal Shakes's "Pastures of Heaven," which playwright Octavio Solis adapted from John Steinbeck's collection of short stories based on the lives of inhabitants of the lovely: Pastures of Heaven in Salinas Valley.

The plan was to write the reviews as one piece, since they were both set in California, and both looked at early settlers in the region. Well I didn't get to the opera until tonight and Pastures of Heaven closed last weekend.

Not quite aware of what I could expect at the time, I knew whatever Cal Shakes was cooking, it would be well done. As one story folded seamlessly into another against a backdrop which celebrated the California landscape, I thought about the displaced persons--unmentioned whose land all these white people now occupied.

The company performed in repertory fashion so actors appeared in numerous roles, and with the collaboration of Word for Word Company, the play was pretty close to the original collection of stories.

Getting back to the Spaghetti opera which has a few more performances left, I loved Minnie's confession of love for "Johnson from Sacramento." Though hard to believe the old maid was a virgin--with that blonde hair and the white dress she put on for her date, not to mention the white snow, as in "pure as the driven snow," Minnie hadn't been fooling around or interested in any of the fellows who were stationed at the mining camp.

The only woman in the camp, her ties with the men whom she helped write letters home, nursed when ill, and any number of other tasks was more sisterly than anything ulterior. The very married sheriff has a crush on Minnie who doesn't feel the same as he.

The opera is funny, even though the outcome for the bandit looks grim. After all, it's a love story.

In one song Minnie sings of love's redemption and how she doesn't know anyone whose heart can't change for the better. And then she falls for the villain. It is a great story, except for the caricature of the lone Indigenous man, whose line is: "Ugh."

Opera is an elitist pastime, so I don't expect to see many black people in the audience, let alone on stage. It was with great surprise and delight to see Kenneth Overton (Sid). I thought I might be seeing things, so I didn't get too happy until I checked the program and yep, he is a black man. His San Francisco Opera debut was as "Frazier" in 2009 in "Porgy and Bess." I liked his "Sid," he wasn't afraid to knock the power structure if he felt it was unfair.

Other San Francisco Opera events coming up are:
San Francisco Opera is at Stern Grove Music Festival Sunday, July 4, 2 PM, www.sfopera.org, at Sharon Meadows, Sunday, Sept. 12, 1:30 PM www.sfopera.com/park, and Aida Simulcast at AT&T Park www.sfopera.com/simulcast


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