Arts Listings

Arts: ‘Fresh Voices’ Series Aims to Make Opera Accessible

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Tuesday May 16, 2006

“Our definition of opera is that it has music more interesting and complex than musical theater,” said Harriet March Page, artistic director of Goat Hall Productions, which will be staging Fresh Voices VI with 10 short operas—as well as bookending their NOW Festival of new compositions and a program of art songs—Thursday through Sunday for the next two weeks at Thick House on Potrero Hill in San Francisco.  

Besides her expanded definition of opera, Page said that Fresh Voices is committed to accessible operatic storylines, even “to do something a little political.” This explains in part the festival’s subtitle or motto, “Pipers & Puppets,” taken from Music Director Mark Alburger’s piece, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” (from the Robert Browning poem, but insinuating that a present-day president may be the piper to more than just hordes of terrorist rats), as well as the sock puppets that cropped up as choruses in a couple of the works that will be staged. 

The “motto” goes on to ask, “Who’s piping the tune ... and who’s dancing?”  

“This year, we wanted to do something thematic, “ said Page, “which followed as soon as I got onto the Pied Piper Principle. The Pied Piper is at once puppet and puppet master. I see at least a little bit of it in all our pieces—but of course, no theme is worthy unless it can be expanded to fit everything!”  

Music Director Alburger said the festival included a wide range of music and themes. 

“Lisa Scola Prosek’s ‘Leonardo’s Notebooks’ is highly melodic, with a minimalist thing, yet a feeling for traditional Bel Canto,” he said. “Steven Clark’s ‘Amok Time’ has vocal lines taken from a Star Trek episode, which will be played silently behind the singers, to a tongue-in-cheek insipid pop score that goes from swing to reggae. My own ‘Pied Piper’ features a severe reworking, or rat poisoning, of classic material, with ‘Cosi Fan Tutti’ under there, somewhere.” 

Other delights include: John Beeman’s four minute “Dear Composer” (rejection letters from festivals and conductors in counterpoint against a pseudo-jazz score) and Connie Tyler’s “relentlessly Celtic” hagiography of the Irish saint, “Brigid, Fiery Arrow.” Another legendary strong woman is eulogized in John Partridge’s “Joan of Arc.” Mark Alburger’s score is combined with Harriet Page’s words for “Cats, Dogs and Divas.” “The Music Department,” is Allan Crossman’s day in the life of a conservatory that goes from Mozart to “an intergalactic Ed Sullivan show.” 

The first of two operas featuring sock puppets is “Eye Eye Sailor” by Steven Clark and Michael Wertz. The other sock puppet entry, “The Fashion God,” Brian Holmes’ operatic settings of FEMA’s ex-director Michael D. Brown’s self-regarding emails. Holmes also is represented by “Tales of the Cultural Revolution,” based on an incident “I heard about from the Canadian Brass, who were among the first to tour China after the purges. Apparently, Madame Mao heard a piece with a tuba that so offended her sensibilities, she demanded the player be fired. This was interpreted that all tuba players should be fired.” 

Sundays will be dedicated to nonoperatic works, “Songs for the 21st Century” on May 21 and the NOW Festival on May 28, which Alburger said may have an entry by Lukas Foss. 




Thursday through Sunday May 18-21 and May 25-28 at the Thick House, 1695 18th St., San Francisco. $15-$25. For more information, including show times, call (415) 401-8081.