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Pocket Opera’s 2018 Season Marries Wit and Wedlock

January 3, 2018

Where else but at Pocket Opera productions can you hear singing translations such as this of Offenbach’s “scandalous” 1858 Orpheus in the Underworld:

Sleep on, sleep on! Lower the lights.
Come, join the drowsy crew.
For here on these Olympian heights
There’s never a damn thing to do.
You folk out there, I have to warn ya:
Here it’s worse than Southern California.

Founder-director Donald Pippin’s inimitable English translation are one of the tiny but inventive company’s distinctions. For its 41st season, it will go one better than the Hugh Grant film and present “Five Weddings and a Funeral” in Offenbach’s La belle Helene.

With the usual adventurous spirit and Pippin’s translations (both sung and projected with supertitles), Pocket will feature operas by Offenbach, Smetana, Handel, Cimarosa, Donizetti, and Mozart.

A gala fundraiser on Feb. 11 will honor Executive Director Dianna Shuster, who is retiring after 12 years of leading the company. Unlike Pocket’s first 40 years, the musical and stage direction, playing the piano, and conducting of the Pocket Philharmonic will not be an all-Pippin affair: At 92, he is yielding his quadruple assignment to a variety of artists.

Season tickets are now on sale and single tickets will become available on Jan. 10. Most performances are at Berkeley’s Hillside Club and San Francisco’s Legion of Honor; an additional venue is the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto.

The season’s wedding theme begins with Offenbach’s La belle Helene, March 4 (Berkeley) and 11 (San Francisco), directed by Ellen Brooks and sung by Erin O’Meally (Helen), Jonathan Smucker (Paris), and Michael Mendelsohn (Menelaus). Next up is Bedrich Smetana’s The Bartered Bride, April 8 (Berkeley), 12 (Palo Alto), and 22 (San Francisco), directed by Assistant Artistic Director Nicolas Aliaga, with music direction by Frank Johnson, and traditional Bohemian costumes and choreography by Mary Kay Stuvland; the cast includes Lindsay Roush (Marsenka) and Robert Vann (Jenik).

Handel’s Semele is heard in concert performances on April 29 (San Francisco) and May 6 (Berkeley), with Maya Kherani in the title role and David Gustafson as Jupiter. Domenico Cimarosa’s rarely-performed The Secret Marriage is unveiled on May 20 (Berkeley) and 27 (San Francisco), directed by Ted Zoldan and starring Liesl McPherrin as Carolina and Jonathan Smucker as Paolino.

A happy wedding finale awaits after many comic and dramatic vicissitudes in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, July 8 (Berkeley), 15 (San Francisco), and 22 (Palo Alto), featuring Aimee Puentes as Susanna, Daniel Yoder as Figaro, Marcelle Dronkers as the Countess, and Lee Strawn as the Count.

The season’s outlier is the funeral-filled drama of Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia, June 10 (Berkeley) and 17 (San Francisco), directed by Aliaga, with music direction by David Drummond. The cast features Rabihah Davis Dunn as Lucrezia, Shouvik Mondle as the Duke, and Michael Desnoyers as Gennaro.

Tickets will be available via the Pocket Opera website on January 10, 2018, at 10 a.m.

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].