For roughly the first half of next month, West Edge Opera will present its 2018 summer festival. This organization has established itself for its innovative approach to repertoire, complemented by imaginative concepts for staging. If that has not been enough, the productions have been presented at sites that have been unexpected, to say the least. Once again, this summer’s venue will have “industrial roots,” since the Craneway Conference Center was formerly a Ford Motor Company Assembly plant. It is located on the waterfront of the Richmond Marina, adjacent to the Craneway Pavilion. For those depending on public transportation, West Edge will provide a shuttle service from the Richmond BART station that will begin two hours before the beginning of each performance.
The 2018 season will begin with Claude Debussy’s only opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, serving somewhat as an afterthought acknowledgement of the centennial of the composer’s death this past March 25. This opera was first performed at the Opéra-Comique in Paris on April 30, 1902, and it would be fair to say that it tends to go against the grain of what most people think they know about Debussy. Opera lovers are likely to be more than a little surprised to find that the orchestral interlude between the first two scenes tends to sound a lot like the march to the Hall of the Grail in the first act of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal, but that will not surprise anyone who knows that Debussy went to the Bayreuth Festival in 1888 to see a performance of Parsifal and was sufficiently impressed that he came back the following year to see Tristan und Isolde. Nevertheless, even those opera lovers tend to be a bit perplexed by Pelléas, since so much of this opera unfolds through the suggestion of action, rather than action itself. As I put it at the end of last year, those “expecting to see something like Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto” are likely to come away very frustrated.
Pelléas et Mélisande is based on the Symbolist play of the same name by Maurice Maeterlinck’s play, and Debussy adapted Maeterlinck’s text to prepare his libretto. The title roles will be sung by tenor David Blalock and mezzo Kendra Brook, respectively. Pelléas’ brother Golaud will be sung by baritone Efrain Solis, and their grandfather King Arkel will be sung by bass-baritone Philip Skinner. West Edge Music Director Jonathan Khuner will conduct his own adaptation of Debussy’s score for chamber ensemble. Both staging and choreography will be by Keturah Stickan, who will be making her West Edge debut, having previously provided choreography and movement for the world premiere of Jake Heggie’s Moby Dick given by the San Diego Opera and subsequently presented by the San Francisco Opera. The performance will be sung in French with English supertitles. Performances will take place at 8 p.m. on Saturday, August 4, and Friday, August 17, and at 3 p.m. on Sunday, August 12.
The second opera of the season will be Matt Marks’ “Mata Hari,” which is about 90 minutes in duration without intermission. It was first performed at the Prototype festival in New York in January of 2017, where it was directed by its librettist, Paul Peers. Peers will come to West Edge to prepare this revival production. He will be joined by Tina Mitchell in the title role, which she had both sung and danced (choreography by Anabella Lenzu) at Prototype. Instrumental resources are provided by four performers playing, respectively, violin, accordion, keyboards (including piano), and guitar doubling on banjo. Emily Senturia will conduct. Performances will be at 3 p.m. on Sunday, August 5, and at 8 p.m. on Friday, August 10, and Saturday, August 18.
The most controversial production will be Luca Francesconi’s “Quartett,” an opera in one act consisting of twelve scenes and an epilogue. Francesconi prepared his libretto, based on Heiner Müller’s play of the same title, which, in turn, was based on Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ epistolary novel Les Liaisons dangereuses. Laclos’ book was, and continues to be, notorious for its depiction of control and exploitation through seduction. (The coupling of this opera with the tale of Mata Hari is a fortuitous one.) The principal characters are the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont, and they are the only characters in Francesconi’s opera. However, each of them reflects on a past conquest, which is why Müller chose the title “Quartett.”
Hadleigh Adams and Heather Buck in “Quartett” (photograph by Cory Weaver, from the West Edge Opera Web site)
Those characters will be sung, respectively, by soprano Heather Buck and baritone Hadleigh Adams. Staging will be by Elkhanah Pulitzer. The conductor will be John Kennedy, who conducted the American premiere of “Quartett” at the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston. Instrumental resources consist of a chamber orchestra with electronics and a recording of a full orchestra and chorus, which was created for the premiere performance at La Scala. Performances will take place at 8 p.m. on Saturday, August 11, and Thursday, August 16, and at 3 p.m. on Sunday, August 19.
Tickets are on sale for both three-opera subscriptions and individual operas. Subscription prices are $129, $258, and $339. Single ticket prices are $47, $95, and $125. A single Web page has been created for all online ticket purchases. This Web page also allows for the purchase of Box Meals from Poulet for each of the performances. Finally, there will be a fundraising event called An Evening at the Craneway, which will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, August 15. The event will offer dessert, champagne, song, and fun. All tickets will be $100.