February 7, 2017
When Donald Pippin followed up his remarkable career performing in the hungry i and Opus One in North Beach by presenting a complete work featuring young singers, the birth of Pocket Opera seemed like a one-off deal.
But that was 40 years ago, and behold: the company and Pippin, 91, are going strong and still adding to the hundreds of Pocket productions and scores of Pippin’s original English-language libretti. They are presenting six operas March 5 through July 23 in several intimate venues.
The new season, from Pippin, Executive Director Dianna Shuster, Associate Artistic Director Nicolas Aliaga Garcia, takes fresh approaches to old warhorses and rarely performed works.
Puccini’s La Boheme, the season opener, features Alexandra Sessler as Mimi, Erin O’Meally as Musetta, Michael Desnoyers as Rodolfo, Sam Rabinowitz as Marcello, Phillip Harris as Schaunard, and William O’Neill as Colline.
Leading the list of rarities is the 1858 Gounod opera, The Doctor in Spite of Himself. Gounod, of course, means Faust to most operagoers and perhaps the fairly well known Roméo et Juliette, but a show of hands, please, if you are familiar with his other dozen operas such as Le médecin malgré lui.
It is based on the Molière play about a poor woodcutter forced into pretending to be a doctor. He eventually embraces the ruse and happily exploits it. (From the department of bizarre facts: of the three movies made of the play, one is a Hong Kong film starring Cheung Tat-ming.) In this show, Pippin reclaims his place at the piano, leading the Pocket Philharmonic, and a cast headed by Lee Strawn, Laurel Rice, Liesl McPherrin, and Eric Levintow.
Donizetti’s The Daughter of the Regiment will feature exceptional soprano Maya Kherani in the title role. Her Marie will be surrounded by Jonathan Smucker as Tonio, Don Hoffman as Sulpice, and Sonia Gariaeff as the Marquise.
Kherani also appears as Romilda in the Pippin specialty, Handel’s Xerxes. The concert performance in Italian, with Pippin’s narration, brings together Mary Rauh in the title role, Joanna Brosk as Arsamene, Sonia Gariaeff as Amastre, and another Pocket discovery, Rabihah Davis Dunn, as Atalanta.
One of Donizetti’s finest historic operas, Roberto Devereux, will have Robert Vann in the title role, Marcelle Dronkers as Elizabeth, Tania Mandzy as Sara, and Lee Strawn as Nottingham.
Closing the season is the premiere of a new Pippin translation for the “party opera,” Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus, the Bat flying high with Martin Lewis as Eisenstein, Lindsay Roush as Rosalinde, Patricia Westley as Adele, Mason Gates as Alfred, Mary Rauh as Orlofsky, and Nick Volkert as Falke. Imagine all those artists along with chorus and dancers squeezing on to the modest stages at Pocket Opera venues!