OperaMark Rudio


OperaMark Rudio

I've done it. More times than I can remember, though at some point now that I think about it, I rarely do it anymore. Walking down the street, standing in an elevator, waiting in a line, I see someone- a total stranger, who strikes my fancy and prompts my imagination to take off into Romantic Fantasy land. In my particular case it's usually something visual that catches my eye. A confident walk, an accordion skirt, really great shoes, or a gap between two front teeth suddenly exposed by a smile. Or a thousand other things. I'm often susceptible to eyes and boots. Let's call the instigating "it factor" of this experience the "trigger." Sometimes triggers come in pairs, and like the double trigger on an M1946 Sieg automatic rifle, this can produce an especially effective result.

With Isabella it was her large, dark eyes coupled with a voice trained in the theater. The Femme Fatale was wearing a mask when we met which hid everything except her piercing eyes, though it was her name which really caught me. Maria Gostrey was flaunting a Cavalli gown and a Marilyn Monroe walk- she captured my imagination before I even saw her face. Long before I actually met her, I used to admire CC from a distance because of the clothes she wore, which I observed from the window in the apartment of another woman I was dating who lived across the street from her. I would watch CC go in and out of her flat on Pierce Street as I sat in the window of this other woman's apartment, fantasizing about the woman across the way, CC, with her great clothes and determined gait. Some months later, when she took me to her flat after our second date, you might imagine my surprise at learning I was in the presence of the woman I used to admire from a window right behind us. Suddenly a former fantasy had become reality.
The point of all of this reminiscing is to say I was intrigued when I read about the plot of the new opera Love/Hate: a string of vignettes revealing the romantic fantasies and memories of two people meeting as they stand waiting for a bus on a rainy morning. You might understand how I was sympathetic to the idea this could be great material- especially for an opera. Boy meets girl, triggers are pulled,  fireworks follow (hopefully).
So on Saturday night I rode over to the ODC Theater to check it out. I arrived early, and when I turned off the bike's engine I could clearly hear Ao Li's voice filling the street outside as he warmed up from somewhere inside the building, which I found charming. There was already a "sold-out" announcement on the door as I went inside. Waiting in line for my ticket I noticed Sheri Greenawald of the SF Opera Center come in through the opposite door, and spotted a couple who run a local opera company seated at a table, chatting away with another couple. I looked around and spotted another familiar face- a woman I've seen many times before at various performances whom I've never met and whose identity was unknown to me.
Coffee and coffeecake now in hand, I went over and introduced myself, with no other intention than to find out who she was because I see her so frequently. I figured she was either a journalist of some sort or worked in the arts. It turned out to be the latter- she works for SF Opera, and when she told me what she did I felt awkward for a moment, quickly recalling the many critiques and rants I've written about things in which she probably had a direct hand. She didn't recognize my name (my real one, of course), though when I told it to her I could see her searching her mind for a link. I think she came up blank, which is probably for the better. We had a nice chat and I was grateful I haven't written anything snarky about her employer or her department in awhile, though it was one of those situations where after it was over I had an entire list of things I wished I had said in place of the things I actually did. All nice things, of course. Nicer things. Different things. Oh well.
You've no doubt noticed by now I'm taking an awfully long time to get around to discussing the opera itself. This isn't a coincidence. Perhaps I should begin by quoting a line sung by one of the characters: 

How did things get so fucked up?

Surely there's an unwritten rule somewhere that says don't write lines or use a title that is ripe for some sarcastic bastard to use to skewer your own work, unless you're 100% certain what you've created is gold. I can imagine someone sitting in front of their computer thinking maybe I should just make a list of things I loved/hated about Love/Hate.

What I loved:
Okay, next column.
What I...
Never mind.
You see where I'm going here, don't you? Of course you do. Actually, it's not all bad, but there's only so much bait I can refuse.
The performers were all quite good and approached the material with admirable earnestness. There just wasn't much for them to work with because the libretto by Rob Bailis doesn't give them anywhere to go and with no destination to arrive at, composer Jack Perla's music skittishly jumps from one genre to the next without ever forming a cohesive whole. More than once I felt like I was watching an episode of "Glee" in which the cast performs a parody of "Friends."
The opera begins with what turns out to be a recurring leit motif (inserted late into the creative process according to Bailis during a post-performance Q&A). Laura Krumm and Ao Li (annoyingly named George and Laura, as in Bush) meet at a bus stop. He asks her name, and on hearing it sings a line from the theme of the film with the same title. She asks his, and on hearing it alludes to his namesake the curious monkey. If this wasn't awkward enough to begin with, George is wearing a silly raincoat and hat the exact same color of the cover on the children's books and gives his profession as "computer geek." Laura's an English teacher. While this may have been seen by those involved as either funny or realistic, its proximity to racial stereotyping made me feel a bit queasy. And it was repeated three times, maybe four.
Not the best choice for the leading man. Just sayin'.
Going back to that unwritten rule for a moment, about that inclusion of the riff from The Doors' "When the Music's Over"... oh, never mind.
The strongest moments of the work are when both George and Laura reminisce about past lovers who happen to be of the same sex. But while the inclusion of this bit of their personal histories  worked individually as vignettes, featuring the most realistic lines of the libretto and the best dramatic staging, they didn't make much sense in the larger context. The sudden jerking of the characters sexual preferences/lives/identities into a different world was jarring rather than illuminating, and I couldn't help but wonder if I'm the only one who thought if the strongest part of the libretto deals with same-sex relationships, why not just flip it, make the characters gay, and have this scene be about their past experimentation with straight people? It seemed to me these scenes were where Bailis's heart was- why not follow it? It would have rang truer to me.
Now that's entertainment.
Thomas Glenn and Marina Boudart Harris rounded out the cast of four, with everyone playing at least two parts. Li, who spoke little if any English when he arrived in the U.S. a couple of years ago, impressed me with his command of the language and his ability to deliver nuances within the lines. He possesses an incredibly rich, strong voice. Both Krumm and Harris hit a rough spot at one point, but each has a highly appealing presence onstage and a lovely voice. It will be worth watching to see how these talented young singers, both first year Adler Fellows, develop.  Glenn, whose elastic physicality reminds me of Jim Carrey, is always a pleasure to see perform and last night was no different. He seemed especially comfortable in the moments that were more musical theater than opera- of which there were many. That's another thread I'm going to just ignore at this point, though whether one considers Love/Hate to be a musical or an opera (and what the difference is between the two at this point) is a subject well worth ruminating about. But I do have other things to accomplish today, so no, I'm not going down that path. 
The program doesn't list anyone in charge of costumes. This was too obvious. 
What wasn't obvious was the purpose of Laura's sheep. Was this supposed to make the audience think she's a bit "off"? A clue to the absurdity of romantic fantasizing? To the absurdity of romance, period? A vague allusion to Albee's goat? A MacGuffin? All of the above? 
The music, led by David Hanlon, was well-performed by Michelle Maruyama on violin, Adelle Akiko Kearns on cello, Ryan Ibbetson on clarinet and Robert Mollicone on piano and electric keyboard.