Arts Listings

Cabaret Opera Stages an ‘Opera Apocalypse’

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Thursday November 13, 2008 - 09:59:00 AM

“Opera Apocalypse!” The title of San Francisco Cabaret Opera’s show of three short, new pieces conjures up Wagnerian images of The End. Some might say it’s a tautology. But the trio of operas—Mark Alburger’s Antigone, Ophelia Forever by Amy Beth Kirsten and John G. Biloota’s Quantum Mechanic—offer a mix of humor, intensity and thoughtfulness “exploring a post-apocalyptic future focused on women.” 

Some of that future is abstracted from a famous past. Ophelia Forever features a trio (sopranos C. A. Jordan and Megan Cullen and mezzo Cary Ann Rosco) essaying, in both solo and ensemble, the three aspects of Ophelia’s character: Mad Mermaid, Faithfull, Seductress and Violated Saint, with a voiceless Melancholy Prince (Terence Bennan) wandering through, enjoying the attention but seemingly oblivious to the derogation, in a libretto derived from The Bard, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Christina Rossetti—and the composer.  

At the start, Keisuke Nakagoshi burns up the keyboard, while Mark Alburger, Cabaret Opera musical director, conducts with one hand, fingering his oboe with the other, the music both torrential and haunting. 

Bilotta’s Quantum Mechanic, winner of last year’s Opera-in-a-Month competition, receives its first full staging here, opening with a strange tableau: three turquoise-coiffed beauties in basic black with pale blue scarves posed above an old industrial refrigerator plastered with nuclear-plant-type warning signs. Mrs. Schrodinger (Elizabeth Henry), housewife and professor’s spouse, tears into the scene with the happy aplomb of a ’50s commercial, almost dancing as she whisks up a special fluffy dessert.  

But it falls flat in the futuristic fridge, and she calls a bumbling Quantum Mechanic (Michael Desnoyers), who mistakenly opens up a wormhole, letting in the Quark Sisters (the now-animated Erin Lahm, Maria Mikheyenko and Laryssa Sadoway as Misses Up-Down, Charm-Strange and Top-Bottom) from the parallel universe next door, along with Aesop the fabulist (who delivered a genial prologue), Mark Alburger again, now in robe and ubiquitous pale blue scarf, with a dollop of white cotton on his chin, an archaic Diz beard. Pulling a wire (and what’s a wire doing in hi-tech? Or is it the eponymous String Theory that’s pulled?), the Mechanic vanishes, the tuneful trio retreat to their dimension with fabulist in tow—and the soufflé emerges, perfectly stiff. 

Alburger’s Antigone is the most serious and truly apocalyptic piece of all, less Sophocles than the also-credited (for inspiration) Jean Anouilh, lacking the blind, androgynous seer Tiresias (unless he’s subsumed by The Fixer, played by set designer Adam Broner) and almost devoid of the white spaces of classical irony (something Satie strove for in Socrate), but filled with wonderful harmonies and much emotion, with a kind of humor in some exchanges and The Puppetmaster (Bennan again) lurking behind a swing-like throne.  

Creon (an impressive bass-baritone, Micah Epps) and Antigone (emotionally charged soprano Eliza O’Malley, who alternates with Letitia Page) spar furiously, their high and low registers (and those of tenor Desnoyers as Antigone’s intended, Haemon, Creon’s son) exploited in the solos. But the solos come out of and return to the wonderful choral sound of the 13-strong ensemble—the one thing, Alburger quipped, truly Greek about it all—though he quotes Greek chant along with everything from Bach to the Beach Boys in this “grid opera” drawn from The Magic Flute, which will stand up with Honegger’s music for Cocteau’s Antigone and Carl Orff’s wild, percussive setting with soloists for Holderlin’s hyperliteral translation. 

Alburger and Harriet March Page, artistic director, continue to realize a performance style in the grand old West Coast tradition: eclectic, professional—and fun.  


Featuring Antigone, Ophelia Forever, Quantum Mechanic. 8 p.m. Friday; 7 p.m. Sunday at Chapel of the Chimes, 4499 Piedmont Ave., Oakland. $25 general; $20 seniors, students. Telephone Reservations: (415) 289-6877. Online discounts at