Sunday, September 12, 2010

Anna Karenina @ Opera San Jose Sept. 11-26 Reviewed Sunday, Sept. 12 matinee

Opera is big on melodrama, and David Carlson's Anna Karenina is the entire Desperate Housewives season in one episode. From the unpleasant premonition when a man leaps to his death in front of her train, to her troubles with her husband, the unexpected pregnancy and the ensuing indiscretions and gossip... poor Anna really makes a mess of things quickly, so quickly it makes one's head spin.

But let's start at the beginning.

Based on the epic novel by the same title, Leo Tolstoy's voluminous tale of high society--its marriages of convenience between older men and younger women, whose careers consist of having babies and throwing parties. When we meet Anna, she is bored and taking a break from her husband, Alexei Karenin, and child, Seioja, at her brother, Stiva Oblonsky's home where she meets a flirt, Alexei Vronsky, (funny, I just noticed the husband and interloper have the same first name).

Anna visits dear brother Stiva to save his marriage and ironically loses her own.

Anna says she used to love her husband, but after I think eight years of marriage, years where he is wrapped up in his work and she never sees him, she is ready for romance, the type of attention, Vronsky provides as soon as he sees her at a party, despite Anna's resistance because, she tells him, "I am a married woman."

Vronsky kisses her in front of everyone, even the woman he supposedly loves, Kitty, whom when proposed to by another man, Konstantin Levin (actor Alexander Boyer), turns him down. Levin, sort of the conscience of the play, is devastated. (Kitty is Anna's sister-in-law, Dolly's sister.)

I am surprised Anna doesn't know the rule of thumb regarding flirtation: one doesn't take the man home, especially if there is a man already residing there (smile). Girlfriend, not only takes the boy home in her heart, she lets him into the house and into her bed--poor judgment, especially as there were no condoms on the night stand.

Yes, she is doomed. Karenin might be away at work more than he should, but he is an older man who loves his pretty wife and is upset that she is bringing negative attention on the household--one he has ignored, including a son, he barely knows, but this is the life of the aristocracy. Perhaps Anna expected more, but to expect more was to be unrealistic.

It was as if she expected her life to reflect that of the characters in a Harlequin Romance novel.

The sets are each marked by paintings --impressionists (real or fake?) and initially portraits of Anna and Karenin (life size, a nice touch--symbolizing love and/or stability). The furnishings rotate off and on the set, with actors carrying pieces in or out as the orchestra plays throughout. This fluidity means every moment counts.

Several times the characters create a tableau on stage...light and shadows a backdrop to what is happening in the foreground or in a character's head, such as Anna's on the train platform in the closing scene.

I wish the names of the songs were in the program, but just before the end of the first act, the song sung between Anna, Karenin, Vronsky and I think Dolly, is really beautiful in its arrangement--each artist singing a separate part--the question is one of fidelity and love. Will Karenin give Anna her freedom and custody of their son?

What do you think?

He tells Dolly that he might forgive Anna is he didn't hate her. I think it's more male ego than anything else. Anna hurts his feelings and if nothing is felt in moderation, Karenin can't forgive Anna or treat her kindly, especially when whisperers of evil are telling him to be spiteful and full of vengeance. The result is the least powerful suffer like Anna and Karenin's child, "Serioja," wonderfully portrayed by Kameron Duncan (9).

Anna and Karenin, actors Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste and Isiah Musik-Ayala could have possibly worked it out if Karenin's busy body sister Lydia (actress Kindra Scharich) ) hadn't inserted her will between her brother and his former wife, she now mother to Anna's child.

The acting is superb all around with a special kudoos to Torlef Borsting's "Vronsky," home wrecker, who I can't stand. I really like Anna's sister-in-law, Tori Grayum's "Dolly Oblonsky," her husband, Anna's brother, actor Michael Mendelsohn's "Stiva Oblonsky."

The California Theatre is so lovely--art deco period, similar in design to the Paramount and Fox theatres in Oakland and the Castro in San Francisco. The San Jose Opera at the California Theatre is so much more comfortable than that at the Herbst Theatre where in the balcony one can barely move her knees.

The Anna story is so typical of upper class woman in Russia and elsewhere--idle minds really are the devil's workshop and an idle mind coupled with unmet desire, is just a recipe for disaster or a great opera (smile).

In the classic story, The Yellow Wallpaper, the poor wife who is pregnant eventually goes mad when he husband keeps her confined to a certain area of the house where there is no light and she can't visit the garden. Anna isn't physically confined, but there isn't much upward mobility in the matrimony market--

Anna kind of loses it, just as the protagonist in the short story does as well. This mental instability is enhanced by drugs...prescribed by the physicians these women find themselves in the care of (in The Yellow Wallpaper, the pharmacist is the protagonist's husband).

In the end Anna's thinking is impaired by her addiction. She doesn't seem to know what she wants. One of the lessons here is to be careful what one wishes for; often when one's wishes are granted, one cannot send the gift back or get back the life one once knew.

Colin Graham's libretto is so lovely. It's like poetry. The epilogue gives one a reading on Anna's life--one of the characters, Levin haunted by her beauty and sadness.


At 11:54 AM, Blogger lindyspice said...

Thanks for the great review of Anna Karenina, Wanda! We loved your interview with Jouvanca, too. :) Glad that you enjoyed the show- hope to see you at the California again this season...

At 10:36 AM, Blogger Carto said...

Great observations, I especially enjoyed your summary--now I can say "Oh, Yes. That's what I saw." About the opera's ending; I thought it was a little forced with the bright train light and then an epilog after the soprano dies. Carto


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