Circumstances are rarely as palpably present at a performance as was the case at Sunday’s Pocket Opera presentation of “Don Giovanni” in the Legion of Honor’s Gunn Theater in The City.
Until Mozart’s music took over, the season-opening show was under the cloud of COVID-19. Earlier in the weekend, city officials shut down the War Memorial Opera House, Davies Symphony Hall and other venues, canceling San Francisco Symphony and San Francisco Ballet performances as well as many presentations by smaller arts groups.
After a frantic run of calls, emails and postings, company artistic director Nicolas A. Garcia determined the “show must go on.” With surprise and delight, he greeted a large audience at the matinee.
Pocket Opera Executive Director Jeffrey Jordan told audience members they were “the star of the show,” applauding them, and they responded with cheers for themselves.
The overture’s opening fearsome D minor chords, still echoing preoccupation with the virus, foreshadowed the hero’s journey to hell. Almost immediately, as Don Giovanni handed his sword over, there was knowing laughter when Leporello carefully wiped the hilt.
Under the baton of César Cañon, the Pocket Philharmonic triumphed, playing so well that the music prevailed over the distraction of Donald Pippin’s brilliantly translated text in English, both sung and projected on supertitles.
Anders Froehlich as Don Giovanni, Rabihah Davis Dunn as Donna Anna and Sara Lemesh as Zerlina were outstanding, as were Jaime Korkos as Donna Elvira, Spencer Dodd as Leporello, Mitchell Jones as Masetto,and Kevin Gino as Don Ottavio.
Pocket Opera’s 43rd season, with retired founder Pippin, 94, named emeritus, reflects his adventurous spirit. Garcia says Pocket’s 20/20 Vision for the Future season is “to continue the special connection Donald has created using his witty translations to charm the audiences of San Francisco and surrounding Bay Area communities.”
Venues for the season are Berkeley’s Hillside Club, San Francisco’s Legion of Honor and Palo Alto’s Oshman Family Jewish Community Center.
Even though there’s temporarily a dearth of Wagner on Bay Area stages, Pocket’s reprise of his seldom-performed “Das Liebesverbot” (the title in Pippin’s translation is “No Love Allowed”) is slated for April 26 and May 3. Jonathan Khuner conducts in his Pocket Opera debut in a production co-sponsored by the Wagner Society of Northern California and featuring Ellen Leslie as Isabella and Patrick Hagen as Lucio.
The season also includes an unusual pair of one-acts: Offenbach’s “The Cat Became a Woman” (with Chelsea Hollow as Minette and Sam Faustine as Guido) is paired with Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” featuring Marcelle Dronkers as Santuzza, David Gustafson as Turiddu and Harlan Hays as Alfio. David Drummond conducts, Garcia directs.
Rossini’s “Cinderella,” a co-production with Petaluma’s Cinnabar Theater and the Mendocino Music Festival, features Kindra Scharich in the title role and Igor Vieira as Dandini. Mary Chun conducts 10 performances across Northern California.
Bizet’s “Carmen” demonstrates the Pippin-Pocket tradition of showcasing young talent. Nika Printz sings the title role. Ben Brady sings Escamillo, Gabriel Liboiron-Cohen, from Opera Southwest, is Don José and Lindsay Roush is Micaëla. Frank Johnson conducts.
IF YOU GO
Pocket Opera 2020 season
When: 2 p.m. Sundays
Where: Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar St., Berkeley; Legion of Honor, 100 34th Ave., S.F.; JCC, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto
Tickets: $55 to $60
The Cat Became a Woman. Cavalleria Rusticana: March 29 in Berkeley; April 5 in S.F.
No Love Allowed: April 26 in Berkeley; May 3 in S.F.
Carmen: June 7 in Berkeley; June 14 in S.F.; June 21 in Palo Alto
Cinderella: July 12 in Berkeley; July 19 in S.F.; July 26 in Palo Alto