A Snapshot of New Opera on the West Coast

Peter Feher on December 11, 2018
A scene from last year’s Snapshot Festival | Credit: Carson French

Opera scenes have long been the exclusive domain of the genre’s least subtle participants: students and divas. But West Edge Opera — Berkeley’s innovative and resourceful local opera company — has revived the form and given it a modern twist with its Snapshot Festival, soon to be in its third iteration. Instead of an evening of greatest hits and obligatory ensemble numbers, Snapshot showcases excerpts from an eclectic mix of contemporary operas in all stages of development, from completed compositions to works-in-progress.

This year’s festival, running Jan. 19-20, features four new (or relatively new) works, all by West Coast composers. Earplay chamber ensemble, West Edge’s collaborative partner in the project, realizes the scores and provides the musicians.

Soprano Marnie Breckenridge | Credit: Ricardo Birnbaum

Soprano Marnie Breckenridge headlines the weekend of performances, singing Nathaniel Stookey’s 2014 opera Ivonne. The 20-minute, one-woman work, with a libretto by Chicago-based playwright Jerre Dye, follows a day in the life of a head secretary, as chaos threatens to upend her world.

Cindy Cox, chair of UC Berkeley’s Music Department, presents an excerpt from her hybrid music theater piece, The Road to Xibalba, in collaboration with poet and librettist John Campion. Composer and San Francisco Opera double-bassist Shinji Eshima teams up with Tony Asaro in Zheng, a new opera about the life of Chinese mezzo-soprano and former Adler Fellow Zheng Cao, who died of lung cancer in 2013. Rounding out the program is Beth Ratay and Andrew Rechnitz’s Medicus Mortem, which tackles the subject of physician-assisted suicide.

Not an easy lineup of works, but West Edge remains committed to the development of new operas, as well as to its broader mission of reimagining tradition and connecting to modern audiences. “Creating new a massive undertaking,” says Snapshot founder and curator Brian M. Rosen. “We’re proud to provide opportunities for creators to see their work in a concert environment while allowing the public a glimpse into the future of the form.”

For more information, including how to buy tickets, visit West Edge Opera’s Snapshot Festival webpage.