KPBS AIRDATE: February 20, 2004
Lovers united and divided. Lashed together to die, separated by murder. Juicy stories of operatic proportion. One fanciful, the other, supernatural, and both highly anticipated: the Opera’s “Pearl Fishers” and Sledgehammer’s “Macbeth.”
The Scottish Play, as superstitious theater folk call it, is a perfect fit for Sledgehammer Theatre: dark, emotionally intense, bloody, brutal and spookily supernatural. Artistic director Kirsten Brandt is in her element. Her tweaked text highlights certain speeches, making them reverberate as omens or sing as spoken, shadowed duets. The costumes are a contemporary hodgepodge, but there’s a decidedly Asian feel to the production — in the weaponry, a straggly white beard and kimono, a toast in sake cups. The witches who predict the rise and downfall of Macbeth — assume kabuki hand positions, but they glide, hissing and twitching, like short-circuited electronic marionettes. The ominous soundscape and eerie lighting highlight the otherworldly elements. The malleable ensemble of nine morphs into some 30 characters, gender reversed with delectable and unpredictable results. As the power-mad Macbeths, David Tierney and Janet Hayatshahi exude a palpable sexuality, which diminishes noticeably as their anguish mounts over the slaughter of all those who stand in their way. In this election year, the play serves as a cautionary tale; absolute power can be murderous.
But sometimes, maybe only in fantasies and operas, people see the error of their ways. This is the unexpected outcome of Georges Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers.” Two friends love the same woman. The rejected suitor, leader of the fishermen, jealously condemns the couple to death. But then, when he realizes that he has wronged the two people he loves most, he creates a fiery distraction that will save them at his own expense.
Set improbably in Ceylon, “The Pearl Fishers” is not opera’s greatest story, but the plotline isn’t the main event here. It’s the music that enchants, and the San Diego Opera production is a feast for the eyes as well as the ears. The sun-drenched set and costumes were created by the internationally acclaimed, sometimes-local fashion designer Zandra Rhodes — mirroring her own signature hot-pink hair with a textile-like splash of unpredictable color combinations — pink and orange set off by a dash of turquoise. The angular, Asian-inspired dance interludes were choreographed by John Malashock. The orchestra and chorus are outstanding. But most dazzling of all is the soprano at the center of the action. Isabel Bayrakdarian is beautiful, graceful, emotionally credible and vocally magnificent, admirably balanced by tenor Michael Schade and baritone Russell Braun. In this attractive though sometimes visually overactive production, love, the score and the soprano conquer all.
©2004 Patté Productions Inc.