Opera With a West Edge Opera Twist

From Brecht to Ovid to Lars von Trier, West Edge Opera breaks new ground with its summer season.


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West Edge Opera opens its 2019 season this month with a lineup that includes Threepenny Opera (above), Orfeo & Euridice (below), and Breaking the Waves (bottom).

Photos courtesy West Edge Opera

Mark Streshinsky, West Edge Opera’s general director, wondered as he drove back nightly over the Bay Bridge, “What’s that over there?”

“That” turned out to be The Bridge Yard, a 24,000-square-foot 1938 building originally constructed as a repair facility for rail cars running over the bridge. Its award-winning redesign as a public events space and its convenient Oakland-side location made it ideal for WEO’s 2019 season, opening Aug. 3, and, as usual, including three operas.

Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s classic The Threepenny Opera was the choice of director Elkhanah Pulitzer, said Streshinsky. Pulitzer, who directed acclaimed WEO productions of Lulu, Powder Her Face, and last year’s Quartett, “has a unique way of approaching Brechtian style, and she has always wanted to do this piece,” he said. “It will not be like any other version of Threepenny Opera,” he promised. The “biting critique of capitalism and classism” involves the criminal MacHeath (“Mack the Knife”), and his unhappy liaison with Polly Peachum, whose father rules London’s underworld.

Christoph Willibald Gluck’s 1762 opera Orfeo & Euridice will also be unlike any previous production. The entire cast and creative team are women and non-binary artists. “When we realized a mezzo [soprano] would be singing Orfeo, and that [director] KJ Dahlaw is non-binary, we decided to celebrate the work of people underrepresented in the opera world for far too long,” Streshinsky said.

Based on the myth of Orpheus and Euridice, the work features a different ending from Gluck’s original. “Gluck’s version is not true to Ovid’s story. It should be a tragedy,” Streshinsky explained. “We took an aria from the appendix of the French version, translated it into Italian, and added it to the score. I think the production will be very beautiful.”

Streshinsky’s directorial pick is a 2016 adaptation of the Lars von Trier film Breaking the Waves. As he travels the country between seasons, Streshinsky searches for pieces that allow him to have “a moment of the sublime,” and this work did. His friend, librettist Royce Vavrek, sent him the libretto, encouraging him to watch the 1996 movie. “I could not stop thinking about it,” he said of the controversial story about a young woman, raised in a strict Calvinist environment, whose husband becomes disabled and asks her to have sex with other men. “Then I saw the opera in New York and loved it.”

Composer Missy Mazzoli commented in a press release, “Bess McNeil is a woman in an impossible situation with no choice but to carve out her own moral path … Many opera-goers may be unused to such contemporary treatment of sexuality and violence on the stage. Yet it is important to recognize that, unlike the broader plots of classical opera, there is no clear ‘bad guy’ here.”

 

The Threepenny Opera, Aug. 3, 11, and 15; Orfeo & Euridice, Aug. 4, 9, and 17; Breaking the Waves, Aug. 10, 16, and 18, 510-841-1903, WestEdgeOpera.org.

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