Camille Sherman

Breathing fresh air

Portland Opera’s ‘American Quartet’ of one-act operas

An American Quartet sold out–and for good reasons. Portland Opera’s seven-performance black-box show, which opened Feb. 9 at Hampton Opera Center and closed Feb. 22, was witty, short, well performed, utterly charming, and for once the spotlight shone on American opera composers. The entire program, sung in English with projected captions, lasted about 95 minutes along with a 15-minute intermission. That’s a long way from a four-hour night with Wagner.

Emilie Faiella as Lucy and Geoffrey Schellenberg as Ben in The Telephone. Photo by Kate Szrom/Portland Opera.
Emilie Faiella as Lucy and Geoffrey Schellenberg as Ben in Gian Carlo Menotti’s ‘The Telephone.’ Photo by Kate Szrom/Portland Opera.

These four one-acts, ranging in length from 10 to 26 minutes, provided a sharply tuned showcase for the up-and-coming Portland Opera Resident Artists, each of whom sang multiple parts.

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The warhorse dilemma

Portland Opera's Puccini production provides good performances but few surprises

Portland Opera has staged the beloved Madama Butterfly seven times since 1967. I have seen the opera seven times since 1962 – not all at PO. This latest PO Butterfly opened Oct. 25 and wound up a four-performance run Nov. 2 at the Keller Auditorium.

Why do I keep going back?

It gets under your skin. I unabashedly love Giacomo Puccini’s sweeping melodies that make space for Japanese folk music and American tunes.

Nina Yoshida Nelsen as Suzuki and Hiromi Omura as Cio-Cio-San in Portland Opera's 2019 production of Puccini's Madama Butterfly. Photo by Cory Weaver/Portland Opera.
Nina Yoshida Nelsen as Suzuki and Hiromi Omura as Cio-Cio-San in Portland Opera’s 2019 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Photo by Cory Weaver/Portland Opera.

I love the tragic story of boorish racist American Navy Lt. B.F. Pinkerton (sung competently by Mexican tenor Luis Chapa). During a stopover in Japan, Pinkterton takes flighty 15-year-old Butterfly as his bride with the help of marriage broker Goro (Karl Marx Reyes), abandons her for three years, remarries, and returns to take their child back to America.  It is an emotionally brutal story that is based on truth. Yes, Asian brides–and no doubt women of other cultures–were loved and left by Westerners who traveled their way for war or business. Part of the tragedy is that the resulting mixed-race children did not fare well in traditional cultures.

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