Unique 20th century opera brings a rarity to Bay area and a resounding Merola success
By Mort Levine
If you wanted to test the outer limits of opera’s creativity, you should have gone a short
trip north to San Francisco’s Cowell Theatre
at Fort Mason to catch one of the two performances
of Dominick Argento’s semi-surreal 1971 work Postcard from Morocco. The 90-minute one act showcases seven singeractors in some extremely difficult arias and ensemble numbers. The composer brings together a wide assortment of styles and textures that mirror the changing moods of the
Written to a libretto by John Donahue, the setting implies an old fashion grand railway
station which is typically featured in postcards
sent by tourists. None of the four men and three women know each other, and, while they share slivers of biography of themselves, the audience is left to fill in a lot of blanks such as where are they going and why each is carrying some kind of prop. All seven are assigned a common item although only one of the characters is named.
The young singers from SF Opera’s Merola program will also be performing Mozart’s La Finta Giardiniera at the Cowell Theatre on August 2 at 8 p.m. and August 4 at 2 p.m. These performances will be followed with
the annual Merola Grand Finale at the opera
house on August 18 at 7:30 p.m.
The composer is a careful operatic craftsman
with more than a dozen works to his credit. The Aspern Papers based on a Henry James
novella may be his most successful. An upcoming
performance at Dallas opera is scheduled.
Another Argento one-act, A Water Bird
Talk was given some years back by San José State‘s opera workshop.
In Postcard, the masterful Argento touch is
evident in a centerpiece of the show labeled a
"Souvenir of Bayreuth" in which singers and the eight piece orchestra under Merola music
director Mark Morash quotes and parodies
Wagner’s Flying Dutchman. Other musical flights include a operetta singer’s torch song to an absent lover, sung by Soprano Aviva Fortunato while twirling a very long bright
There are some creative dance touches as
well, proving the singers’ versatility.
Tenor A. J. Glueckert provides a poignant
portrayal of an unfulfilled artist, always tightly
clutching a painter’s box. When pressed to
show the brushes and tubes of paint, he finally
opens the box to reveal it contains nothing.
His role is one which encapsulates the pathetic
longing which marks all of the opera. He concludes
it by telling of the boyhood fantasies of
having a naval fleet sailing on a staircase at his
The articles the other singers possess also
seem to reveal an emptiness in their lives.
Bass-baritone Matthew Scolin totes a cornetcase
but admits he can’t play. A traveling
salesman swaggeringly sung by Baritone Joseph
Lattanzi carries a large suitcase with shoe
samples each in a pocket of velvet or fuzz.
The high soprano of Susan Rigden who sings
"a lady with a bad mirror" in an atonal aria which sets an early mood, but the composer’s tonal lyricism provides a sharp contrast. This is evident as mezzo soprano Carolyn Sproule
talks about the hatbox and sings of the hats
made for movie stars. Tenor Andrew Stenson portrayed a puppeteer as well as doubling
as the sad man with old luggage, because it
doesn’t pay to buy new luggage for a trip.
An epigraph is attached to the score of the
opera quoting two lines from Robert Louis
Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. One is "we built a ship upon the stairs," and the other is "But Tom fell out and hurt his knee, So there was no one left but me." Even though the libretto lines convey the underlying sadness and terror, it is the music that really spins out the magic of The Postcard from Morocco.
(SJOG Newsletter August, 2012)
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