Festival Opera, Walnut Creek

Dateline:  Saturday July 9th, 2000

Just What the Doctor Ordered!

After seeing 4 Parsifals at San Francisco Opera (article to follow because I am threatened with the sack yet again!), I was really in the mood for something light. In the first opera of the summer season, "Festival Opera Walnut Creek California" offered up a marvelous feast for the eyes and ears. In an ode to youth and beauty, Festival delighted the opening night audience with wonderful singing, delightful sets, and an enthusiastically led orchestra. But then Artistic Director Oliva Stapp has consistently pulled together winning productions for Festival Opera, where bel canto rules!

The ingenious unit set, designed by Giulio Cesare Perrone, centered on a rustic taverna stacked with bales of hay, hand hewn beams, hanging lanterns and an odd assortment of tables and chairs. Director Daniel Helfgot made maximum use of the sets without the usual "milling around". The costumes were very attractive, if a bit standard. In an unusual move, the character of Dr. Dulcamara was introduced early in Act I, sizing up his prey as the turbaned traveling merchant "Marac Adul". This all added up to a wonderful backdrop for unusually fine singing from the principals in the cast.

As Adina, Adler Fellow Tammy Jenkins clearly stole the show in her debut with the Festival Opera. Ms. Jenkins is a wonderful comedic actress (her Despina in Opera Center's Così fan tutte two summers ago was a marvel) and her razor sharp diction and bright coloratura indicate the makings of a fine career. She was just the right mix of sassy minx and cooing dove for the earnest Nemorino of John Bellemer. Bellemer, an Opera San José Artist in Residence, seemed to have a case of first night jitters during "Quanto è bella", however as the evening progressed to a beautifully sung "Una furtiva lagrima" his voice grew more secure. Bellemer's tone was clear and unforced, he made a very convincing, loveable bumpkin. As the blustery Sgt. Belcore, former Adler Fellow Armando Gama was up to the role of the suitor, with a pleasing baritone voice and just the right touch of egotistical buffoonery. Marina Torres' Gianetta, apprentice minx, led the Act II ensemble with the town's peasant ladies with a clear bright voice; unfortunately she was inaudible in the large ensembles.

That takes us to the singer who has become the "key" to the success of Festival Opera, baritone Bojan Knezevic. Knezevic's bronzed voice and solid technique continue to amaze and delight the ears. Add to that a deft turn with the tongue twisting patter and you can sit back and enjoy Knezevic's characterization of Dulcamara as a shrewd businessman rather than a mere buffoon. Think "Tito Gobbi", this is a wonderful operatic singing actor. Dulcamara and Adina's Act II duets, "Io son ricco, e tu si bella" and "Quanto amore!" were well worth the price of admission. The electricity between the two characters was so strong, one wondered why Adina didn't give up on the simple Nemorino and take off with the "Doctor".

Scott Parkman led the orchestra in a rousing overture. However there were several muddled times, particularly during the ensembles, where it was questionable who was leading the troops. There were also one or two instances where the singers got a bit swamped by over enthusiastic volume from the orchestra. These are things that seem to get ironed out, with additional performances on Wednesday July 12, Friday July 14 and a matinee on Sunday July 16th.

Cheers from sunny California!

Literary content:
Copyright:  © 2000 Terri Stuart

  TOP of PAGE  
Opera Jamboree:
Welcome Page | Site Map
Website Design by:
Want your own website? Talk to me!