Arts Listings

Summer Opera: ‘Agrippina’ and ‘Figaro’

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Thursday July 23, 2009 - 10:07:00 AM

This weekend may prove to be the choicest moment of summer opera in the East Bay, indoors and out—and over a span of millennia, from ancient Rome through the 18th century to the present day. Two adventuresome independent local companies, Open Opera and Oakland Opera Theater, will stage, respectively, Mozart’s most famous opera, The Marriage of Figaro in period dress, outdoors (and free) in John Hinkel Park, and a “a post-modern view” of Handel’s opera on its 300th anniversary, Agrippina 2000, American Emperor at their Oakland Metro Operahouse near Jack London Square. 

Open Opera, founded in 2008, will perform Figaro fully staged for 11 characters, with an orchestra of eight, conducted by Berkeley Opera’s Jonathan Khuner, with Da Ponte’s original Italian libretto with English supertitles. A bare stage will accent the trees of John Hinkel Park. “A warm summer day with glorious music, hilarious comedy, friends, food, trees, opera ...” Beer and wine, plus seasonal Japanese bento boxes, snacks from Peko-Peko ($5-15) will be available. “Bound to be this summer’s cheap thrill act.” 

Open Opera’s artistic director, Olivia Stapp, is former artistic director of Festival Opera; their managing director, Ellen St. Thomas, is a former Sega America executive who is now a lyric soprano, teacher, conductor and director; creative director Elizabeth Baker is a mezzo-soprano and composer, and also vice president of Resource Renewal Institute, a San Francisco-based environmental nonprofit. 

Oakland Opera Theater’s Agrippina 2000, playing Friday and Saturday night, and Sunday afternoon, is something edgier, but in good fun. Billed as “the most ancient yet most modern opera” the company’s ever done, as a “Pythonesque” absurdist opera, a political farce with conflicting anachronisms, as it skips in time between ancient Rome, where Agrippina plots to install her son, Nero, as emperor, to 18th-century Venice, where Agrippina premiered at the Carnevale three centuries ago, to our nation’s Capital during the 2000 presidential election, Agrippina 2000 promises a “unique stylized environment” through the fusion of multiple time settings, a resetting of Vicenzo Grimani’s “anti-heroic,” politically allusive libretto—and of the score to a quartet with amplified cello and violin, “half string quartet, half power trio”—and most Pythonesque of all, a collaboration with filmmaker Ethan Hoerneman, whose projected imagery “evokes Terry Gilliam’s.” (It could be perfect counterpoint to the recent Berkeley Rep production, You, Nero, another anachronistic romp across the centuries—or that ghastly farce attributed to Seneca for Nero’s delectation, The Pumpkinification of Claudius ...) 

Agrippina 2000 features Sepideh Moafi as Agrippina, Christa Pfeiffer as Nero; Pallas is played by Andrew Chung, Narcissus by Sara Couden; Igor Vieira is Ottone; Jennifer Ashworth, Poppea; and John Bischoff, Claudius. Deirdre McClure conducts, and the stage direction is by Oakland Opera’s artistic director, Tom Dean. 




Presented by Oakland Opera Theater at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday at Oakland Metro Operahouse, 630 Third St. $22. 763-1146. 



Prestented by Open Opera at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at John Hinkel Park, 41 Somerset, off The Arlington. Free. 547-2471.