Arts & Events

New: Opera Live in Berkeley on Sunday Afternoon

Monday September 02, 2013 - 04:54:00 PM
Soprano Eliza O'Malley will sing the role of Gilda in Sunday's Verismo Opera production of Rigoletto, 2 p.m. at the Hillside Club in Berkeley.

This week brings the grand opening of San Francisco’s grand opera, complete with glamorous get-ups and lavish parties. But what’s often forgotten is that opera’s 19th century roots were firmly in common ground. It’s been a popular art form in Italy and elsewhere for more than two centuries, even though it’s attracted superb classical composers. Many European cities and towns still have small opera houses, and travelling music-lovers report that up-close and personal opera is exciting in a way that big-house and/or big-screen opera can never be.

Large American companies like the San Francisco Opera now fly in famous singers from around the world for elaborately staged and costumed extravaganzas, creating a level of expense which mandates big auditoriums and high ticket prices for fans who want to be close enough to see the action without binoculars. There have been a number of more-or-less successful recent attempts to make opera available to a larger audience: bringing streamed performances to movie houses, adding video to the nosebleed section of big opera houses, and other gimmicks.

But last September’s S.F. Opera experiment with bringing a streamed Rigoletto to the Giants’ waterfront ballpark is not being repeated this year. The company’s web site says that another Opera in the Ballpark will be presented in the summer of 2014, but neither the date nor the program is announced.

Nonetheless, whether you’re already an opera lover, or if you just think you like what you’ve heard on Prairie Home Companion and want to hear more, it doesn’t have to be a budget-busting expenditure. And if you’ve only seen opera on the big screen until now, you could be experiencing it live in a good number of Bay Area venues.

Next Sunday afternoon, September 8, for example, you’ll be able to see a real live production of Rigoletto presented by a company, Verismo Opera, whose goal is to make opera “accessible to the public at reasonable prices through a community effort of professional musicians and singers.”

In keeping with its mission statement, the non-profit company has been offering affordable opera for several years in a variety of locations around the bay, including Vallejo, Pacifica, Redwood City, San Francisco and Santa Cruz as well as Berkeley. Most shows are fully staged and costumed, with chamber orchestra and English supertitles, and every seat in the intimate houses where Verismo plays is a good seat.

The top price for tickets at Berkeley’s Hillside Club on Sunday at 2 will be only $20, with discounts below that for seniors and students.

The lead singers are experienced Bay Area pros: Frederick Winthrop (Duke of Mantua, tenor), Chris Wells (Rigoletto, baritone) and Eliza O'Malley (Gilda, soprano). They might be familiar to Berkeley audiences from previous Verismo productions at the Hillside Club theater—the most recent, La Traviata, played to a full house and a standing ovation in June.

Date: Sunday, September 8 -more-