OperaReview: Doubleheader full of grand passion

You haven’t lived fully until hearing opera in a small Italian town — the smaller the better. Forget the niceties of production values and flawless performances; instead, you can revel in the most essential component of the genre: passion.

The good news is that there is no need for long-distance travel. You get unbridled, sweeping, rousing operatic passion right in the heart of Silicon Valley. West Bay Opera, 52, the West Coast’s second-oldest company (after San Francisco, 84), is presenting some new and young talent in two of opera’s most heated potboilers. The “Cav/Pag” doubleheader — Mascagni’s 1890 “Cavalleria Rusticana” and Leoncavallo’s 1892 “Pagliacci” — seethes with love, betrayal, revenge, murder, and music to match.

In West Bay Opera’s tiny Lucie Stern Theatre, an overwhelming, manic act paced an overall fine musical performance from a small, gallant orchestra under General Director José Luis Moscovich’s baton. The powerful star turn came from one of a half dozen singers making their debut: Gail Sullivan, in the role of Santuzza.

Instead of portraying a woman hurt by her faithless lover (Vincent Chambers, making a promising, sweet-voiced debut as Turiddu), the soprano gripped the audience with an outsized vocal and dramatic presence of stunning intensity. No lost soul, this Santuzza is a veritable Electra, in search of vengeance from the get-go. So great is the intensity of Sullivan’s vocal performance that instead of just sticking out of the ensemble, it lifts the entire production. (It was a relief to learn from the program notes that off-stage Sullivan has a lighter side. With experience in European opera houses, she has written a guide for auditioning singers, titled “Kein’ Angst, Baby!,” the Australian edition presumably called “No Worries.”)

Sullivan and Sharon Maxwell alternate as Santuzza, and as Nedda in “Pagliacci.” At Sunday’s performance, Maxwell’s vocal performance built well to the climactic final scene, but dramatically, her awkward hand-waving made her look more authentic as the commedia dell’arte Colombina.

Debuts in “Pagliacci” include David Hodgson as Tonio (singing a vital, robust Prologue) and the fresh-voiced Scott Six as Canio, singing up a storm.

Cathleen Candia’s Lola in “Cavalleria” is an impressively simple, effective performance. (The alternate cast Lola is Raeka Shehabi-Yaghmai, whom I haven’t heard since her promising S.F. Conservatory days; she too must be right for the role.)

Both operas are directed by José Maria Condemi and designed by Jean-Francois Revon, who overcame obvious budget problems with talent and imagination. The “Cavalleria” set is simple, functional, giving the feel of a Sicilian village; there is a “working model” of a big truck serving as the platform for the “Pagliacci” show. Condemi is moving the chorus (which sounds better than in any previous WBO show I heard) in intriguing, functional formations; the director’s only misstep is the horizontal love scene in “Pagliacci,” more hilarious than amorous.

Special credit to the 27-member orchestra squeezed into the makeshift pit, playing through a few wrong notes and imbalances to an impressive total performance, peaking in the right places, the right way. Tina Anderson is concertmaster, Janet Lynch-Gillespie principal viola, Janet Withharm principal cello, woodwind principals include Michelle Caimotto (flute), Peter Lemberg (oboe, the whole “section”), Karen Sremac (clarinet), and Alice Benjamin (bassoon).

artsentertainmentOther Arts

Just Posted

Dreamforce returned to San Francisco in person this week – but with a tiny sliver of past attendance. (Courtesy Salesforce)
Dreamforce returns with hundreds on hand, down from 170,000 in the past

High hopes for a larger Salesforce conference shriveled during the summer

The numbers show nearly 14 percent of San Francisco voters who participated in the Sept. 14 recall election wanted to oust Gov. Gavin Newsom from elected office. (Shutterstock photo)
(Shutterstock photo)
How San Francisco neighborhoods voted in the Newsom recall

Sunset tops the list as the area with the most ‘yes’ votes

Alison Collins says that she and other members of San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education facing potential recall “represent constituents that are often erased or talked over.” <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)</ins>
Alison Collins speaks: Embattled SF school board member confronts the recall effort

‘It’s important for folks to know what this recall is about. It’s bigger than any one of us.’

Is the Black Cat incident a distraction from the recovery of The City’s storied nightlife industry or does Mayor London Breed’s behavior inadvertently highlight the predicament the industry’s been in since San Francisco reinstated indoor mask requirements on Aug. 20?<ins> (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner, 2021)</ins>
Club owners to maskless mayor: Are we the new fun police?

Black Cat affair highlights difficult recovery for nightlife industry

BART’s Powell Street station in The City was the site of a fatal accident on Sept. 13.<ins> (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)</ins>
Powell Station death serves as a grim reminder. BART doors don’t stop for anyone

What you need to know about safety sensors on the trains

Most Read