Weekend Marathon
By your leave, SIRE
Dateline April 16

I hear a lot of complaints from people who say that opera companies always trot out the same old war horses year after year. . . .Aida, Bohème, Carmen, Butterfly.   Right now I agree 100%, I'd go screaming from the theatre if I had to sit through one more Carmen.  I was delighted to see that Berkeley Opera took a slightly different tack this year.  E.T.A. Hoffmann is known to many of us now from his famous "Tales" immortalized by Offenbach, and The Nutcracker ~ another of Hoffmann's tales.  I was delighted by the opportunity to see a concert version of Hoffmann's most famous opera ~ Undine.  Based on the tale of the "Little Mermaid", Undine is a water sprite turned human turned water sprite, or something along that line.  But this fairy tale vamp had a sinister and evil side to her.  In a story which was quite convoluted and rather long, Undine falls in love with a handsome Knight, shortly after they marry in a civil ceremony, Undine disappears and leaves the Knight distraught.   When she doesn't return in prompt fashion the Knight marries another woman.  In the mean time, Undine has assumed the form of a ghost and haunts the Knight's castle.  In the end Undine must take revenge for the Knight's betrayal of her love.  So the ghost/watersprite/human coaxes the Knight to give her a lip lock, a kiss of death, and he promptly dies.  

I have never really cared for the Berkeley Opera Orchestra.   The playing did improve as the night went along, however, most of the musicians are very young and honing their skills.  The score had faint reminiscences of Mozartian melodies and vocal lines with a touch of the beginnings of Romanticism.  The vocal parts didn't have the florid style of Rossini or the vocal gymnastics of Mozart.  Since I've had no exposure to this opera before, it wasn't until Act III that I began to recognize the various themes of the different characters.  There were some lovely choral segments appropriately bucolic for the peasants and with a regal touch for the wedding scene.

The Julia Morgan Theatre has lousy acoustics.  The theatre is an historic timber-frame building and voices and orchestration can easily get trapped up in the high vaulted ceiling.

Undine was sung by the very lovely Christina Nuki.  Her voice had the heft to make it through this long evening and yet she had a Mozartian brightness of tone.   Undine is a very big role because the character is on the stage for about 80% of the opera.  Richard Goodman's Water Spirit was superb, capably acted vocally with a great deal of resonance.  Baritone Michael Rogers sang the Knight Huldbrand to great effect.  Other standouts were Paula Goodman Wilder as Bertalda, Diana Smith as the Old Fisherwoman and Macatee Hollie as the Old Fisherman.

My musical weekend marathon ended with Philharmonia Baroque's final performance of the season, Haydn's The Seasons on Sunday April 16.  This work is seldom performed in its entirety and I know why. . . . it is very, very long.  There is a lot of excellent music and a whole lot of noodling around.  Still, I liked the energy of the piece.  Summer was hot and sultry and Autumn was filled with the gaiety of wine making, wine drinking and crisp apples tossed from trees.  The text is from a Scottish poem by James Thomson which was translated into German.  Philharmonia had the text translated back into English for this performance.  The stellar Philharmonia Chorale was beefed up with extra bodies and ably directed by Bruce Lamott.  The soloists were Lisa Milne, the soprano part Hannah , Ian Paton, the tenor part Lucas and bari-hunk Philip Cutlip in the part of Simon.  Ms. Milne and Mr. Paton were both wonderfully accomplished singers, but Cutlip stole the show.  He had perfect diction, wonderful tone solid from bottom to his tenor-like top and I find it especially thrilling when a singer gives a little roll to those "r"s.   The orchestra was superb as usual, wonderfully crisp, bright string section, spot-on reeds and sheer perfection in the brass section (extra tough since they use natural horns).   Philharmonia will be making its European Debut at the Handel Festival in Göttingen, Germany in May and June this year.  Philip Cutlip will be joining the ensemble along with Christine Brandes.  Too bad, I'll be two weeks late to see this on my trip to Germany.

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    Apple Strudel
  • 1 package Filo Dough (available in the freezer section)
  • 1 stick melted butter
  • sugar
  • Filling:

  • 3 to 4 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1-2 tsp lemon juice
  • (optional: curmudgeons add 1/2 cup of chopped nuts)
One at a time, brush the filo dough leaves with butter and lightly sprinkle with sugar, stacking them one on top of the other.  Be certain to keep the leaves you are not working with covered so that they don't dry out.
When all of the filo leaves are stacked, place the filling at one end of the dough leaving 2" on each side.  Gently roll the dough and filling over on to itself, jelly roll style.  Place the strudel onto a cookie sheet and tuck the sides under.  Place on a cookie sheet and brush with butter.  Bake at 350º for 25 to 30 minutes. Lightly dust with powdered sugar and serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

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