Arts & Events

A ‘Passionate Celebration’ at Oakland’s Paramount Theater

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Wednesday March 18, 2009 - 06:12:00 PM

Oakland East Bay Symphony, conducted by musical director Michael Morgan, will perform a Passionate Celebration in concert Friday night, March 20, at Oakland’s Paramount Theater, featuring Act 1 of Verdi’s opera, Otello, with tenor Richard Crawley and soprano Talise Trevigne as The Moor and Desdemona, and the Oakland Symphony Chorus, directed by Lynne Morrow.  

Latvian composer Peteris Vasks’ 2007 Magnum Opus commission, “Sala: Symphonic Elegy for Orchestra,” and Franz Joseph Haydn’s “Symphony No. 49,” La Passione (1768) will also be played. 

Commenting on the reversal of types in the selection of the leads for Otello—an African American Desdemona and Caucasian Otello in a time of either traditional or “colorblind” casting—Michael Morgan said, “It depended on who was available, and with singers like these around to do it ...” then laughed and said, “She’s a spectacular soprano, but who besides me would hire a black Desdemona? At least it’ll give her a chance to say she did part of it.” 

Thematically, there is a connection over the Symphony’s season. For their final season performance May 15, a special concert staging of Kern and Hammerstein’s Showboat will be presented, with a remarkable cast. On Saturday, May 2, at 2 p.m., there will be a special forum on Otello and Showboat, focusing on race, ethnicity and social relations as portrayed in music and theater, at the Veteran’s Memorial Building, 200 Grand Ave., Oakland. Admission will be free. 

“It’ll be about the treatment of racial issues in musical theater—in theater—and the mixing of races, of mixed race people, down to the present day,” Morgan noted. “Every year we hold a forum on issues raised by the American masterwork of musical theater we present. This year we will also talk about the involvement of Paul Robeson in both Showboat and Otello. The local organizations that put together the celebrations of Robeson’s centennial will participate.” 

Morgan will also play harpsichord for the Haydn Symphony, of which he said it was chosen thematically to go with Otello due to its being dubbed La Passione, “the nickname of the minor key”—but that he has wanted to perform it “ever since seeing [Sir Georg] Solti do it with the Chicago Symphony,” when Morgan served as Solti’s assistant conductor in the late 1980s. 



8 p.m. Friday, March 20, at the Paramount Theater, 2025 Broadway, Oakland. $20-65. 444-0801.