KPBS AIRDATE: January 30, 2004
These two productions couldn’t be more disparate. One focuses on a day in the life of a spoiled Chinese princess; the other, a day in the life of an underemployed actor. The comedy is set in modern-day New York, the drama, in legendary Peking. Oh, and did I mention that one’s an opera? Well, anyone knows that an actor working in an upscale Manhattan restaurant also deals with operatic emotions.
Becky Mode’s satiric 1999 play, “Fully Committed,” doesn’t have much plot, but it sure is heavy on characters. Forty eccentrics, to be exact, all played by one actor. At Cygnet Theatre, under the direction of Sean Murray, David McBean gives a tour de force performance. He’s a master of voices, accents and dialects, and though his hapless actor is generally cool and calm, the rest of the nutcases he plays explode with all the passion expected of urban and culinary divas. At neck-snapping speed, McBean switches gears and nationalities and amusingly exposes all the grime and slime of the underbelly and politics of a tony eatery. Murray also designed the set, a wondrous hodgepodge of restaurant detritus. If you know actors or prima donnas, demanding chefs, sheiks or housewives, you’ll be Fully Committed to seeing this engaging, exuberant production.
Now if you want to be visually dazzled and auditorially inspired, you won’t miss “Turandot,” the opener of the San Diego Opera’s 39th season. Designed by internationally acclaimed artist David Hockney, the set is drop-dead gorgeous, complemented by Ian Falconer’s stunning costumes, both in a striking palette of reds, purples and greens. This production was here last in 1997, also under the confident direction of San Francisco Opera’s Lotfi Mansouri. Every scene and stage picture outdoes the one before and the finale is jaw-dropping. Not just the sights, but also the sounds are wonderful. The orchestra, under the direction of Edoardo Muller, is in excellent form. The huge chorus is active and robust. Center stage, the women fare better than the men. As the Princess Turandot, Ukrainian soprano Anna Shafajinskaia has a rich, full voice which, along with the accompaniment, often overpowers tenor Dario Volonté, who plays Calaf, the unknown prince who answers the three death-defying riddles and wins the reluctant royal hand. As Liú, the young servant girl who would gladly die for the love of Calaf, soprano Ai-Lan Zhu is sweet-voiced and heartbreaking. The Fern Street Circus acrobats make an alluring addition, as do the ribbon-twirling and petal-strewing maidens, not to mention the spark-producing whetstone on which the executioner hones his sword. Puccini’s music is glorious, matched by the eye-popping beauty of this dazzling production. As the Turandot fable tells us, Love — in this case, of music, art, color or spectacle — really does conquer all.
©2004 Patté Productions Inc.