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The Crucible Presents Opera With a Spark By KEN BULLOCK Special to the Planet

Friday January 13, 2006

Tempering the operatic and balletic flights of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht with a descent into a real inferno, The Crucible will be staging The Seven Deadly Sins as “A Fire Opera” through Saturday at The Crucible’s studio in West Oakland. 

Singers from San Francisco Opera will be accompanied by a 30-piece orchestra drawn from the Oakland East Bay Symphony, conducted by Sara Jobin of the San Francisco Opera, featuring performances—including aerialists, fire dancers, fire eaters, blacksmiths and foundry workers—and sculptures by many local artists. 

The production is directed by Roy Rallo of the San Francisco Opera and produced and designed by Michael Sturtz, founder and executive director of The Crucible.  

The Brecht-Weill piece is being staged as an anniversary celebration, fitting in both a numerologic and a purgatorial sense: The Crucible is seven years old this week. Founded as “an educational facility that fosters a collaboration of Arts, Industry and Community,” The Crucible features training in both industrial and fine arts in the 56,000 square foot studio, a former industrial workshop. 

It bills itself as the Bay Area’s only nonprofit sculpture studio, educational foundry and metal fabrication shop. Offering over 150 classes and workshops per session—“from cast iron to neon, large-scale public art to the most precise kinetic sculpture, hot glass work to fire dancing,” The Crucible boasts a faculty of over 100 professional artists, tradespeople and educators, and has had 150,000 visitors and class and lecture attendants, including those attending the community events and performance programs that fulfill its role as a publicly accessible arts venue. 

Remarkable for a nonprofit, over 70 percent of The Crucible’s budget comes from earned income. 

The Seven Deadly Sins is the second “Fire Opera” The Crucible has featured, the first being Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in 2004. Originally staged in June 1933 at the Theatre des Champs-Elysee in Paris, conducted by Maurice Abravanel, with choreography by George Balanchine, this collaboration of The Seven Deadly Sins was conceived as opera and ballet on equal terms, expressed by the division of the role of the young heroine into two parts: Anna I, played by a singer, and Anna II, a dancer. 

The first Anna represents practicality and conscience, constantly chiding the flightier, more artistic dancer for her descent into the seven sins, which are represented by seven American cities. Anna, a Louisiana native, visits these cities to earn enough money to build a home on the banks of the Mississippi. 

Constantly confronted by a “Greek chorus” of her kin, Anna steers her way through the evils of capitalism and the sinful cities, finally repenting each fall into error and returning to live a creative life in the house she’s built. 

The Crucible’s production is spread across seven different stages, with the orchestra playing in a loft below the building’s metal roof. Singers include Catherine Cook, Eugene Brancoveanu, Kevin Courtemanche, Joe Myers and Jere Torkelsen. Also performing are Ed Holmes, Xeno, Harlem Shake Burlesque, the As Is Brass Band, Tom Sepe and Lee Kobus in an extravaganza of live hot metal work and fire arts.  

The Crucible has announced a Fire Arts Festival for July, though probably no more Fire Operas this year. This unique local enterprise is perhaps the only theatrical producer who can use hackneyed adjectives like “sizzling” and “fiery” without exaggeration or metaphor to describe its mission to “set opera ablaze.”  


The Seven Deadly Sins runs through Saturday at The Crucible, 1260 7th St., Oakland at 8 p.m. For more information, call 444-0919 or see www.thecrucible.org.