Arts & Events

Updated: Opera Double Bill at the Hillside Club on Saturday

By Ken Bullock
Wednesday May 19, 2010 - 07:38:00 PM

A single mother, atoning for her sins in a convent; the justice of countryfolk over adultery…not the stuff of Baroque or Romantic opera, but very much of the verismo style, stories from real life. True to its company name, Verismo Opera will stage two of that style's shorter masterworks, Puccini's Suor Angelica and Cavelleria Rusticana, by Pietro Mascagni, this Saturday night at 7:30 at the Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar. 

Though times have changed, the astringent telling of the stories has not been dulled, giving them as much punch as the high-flown passions of earlier operatic styles. 

As the setting sun turns the water of the convent fountain golden, one of three evenings a year it happens, the nuns recall the death of Suor Bianca Rosa and pour the water on her tomb, while telling each other their desires. Suor Angelica claims to have none--and the others gossip that she awaits word from her wealthy family, who--they say--sent her to the convent as punishment, seven years before. 

Berkeley soprano Eliza O’Malley who will sing the title role, says that “Suor Angelica is one of the few operas that have multiple roles for women and consequently gets to show more female personality types than most operas. In fact all of the characters are women. Some docile, some rebellious, some passionate, some flatfooted, some wretchedly mean etc... It's popular with small companies and universities for this reason.” 

And as for the music: 

"It sounds like a cliche," she said, "But this is some of the most beautiful music I've ever sung." 

Frederick Winthrop, Verismo Opera's founder, will sing the lead in Cavelleria Rusticana, which he also stage directed. Winthrop is a veteran of both the U.S. Air Force and the San Francisco Opera chorus, as well as of lead roles in many opera productions in the Bay Area. 

" Cavelleria Rusticana means Rustic Chivalry," said Winthrop. "It has all the true-to-life affairs, real verismo stuff: an affair with one woman, who gets pregnant and is dropped by her lover, who takes up with a married woman, whose husband's gone off to the wars." When he returns, tipped off by the jilted woman, he catches his wife on the arm of the duplicitous lover outside of church after Easter services.. There's the offer of rapprochement, a drink of wine; an insult, an embrace and biting the ear as a challenge--and finally, the duel offstage. "You hear men muttering, an outcry, ‘who's lost?”, a crescendo--and the end!" Winthrop concluded. 

Three and a half years old, Verismo Opera "provides operas to outlying communities, taking opera to audiences who don't go alone to San Francisco for it," Winthrop commented. "We also have shows for the general public, like at the Hillside Club, which is just right for us, and as with La Traviata in February, the Mira Theater Guild has us at the Bay Terrace Theatre in Vallejo [for this program on June 4.] We also perform in Santa Rosa, Pacifica and Vacaville.". 

"We're basically opera roadies," Winthrop said. “We were thrilled by the SRO crowd in February at the Hillside Club. We hope to continue to perform there. I've been in opera for almost 40 years--I majored in psychology in college, but always was a singer and made a career of it. It gave me a different perspective on life. My great praise goes to the people I work with, too many names to write down." 

The conductor is Corey Wilkins, with musical accompaniment by the Dolanc String Quartet. MaryAnne Stanislaw staged Suor Angelica

The company's last Hillside club appearance with La Traviata played to a full house, so it might wise to call 510-644-2967 (CORRECTED ) or 707-864-5508 for advance tickets, or to buy them from Brown Paper Tickets online or by phone around the clock at 800-838-3006.  

Tickets are also available at the door.General Admission is $17 with special rates of $12 for seniors, students and Hillside Club members.