Author Archive for: ‘CarolBenet’

“Sf Opera’s “It’s a Wonderful Life”

“It’s a Wonderful Life” at SF Opera

Carol Benet

Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s opera is just In time for the holidays.  Theirs  is an adaptation for the San Francisco Opera of the popular movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) by Frank Capra and a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern.  This is a classic film shown at every Christmas season on television.  Because of its happy ending after a life of many reverses in fortune, it is a favorite.

The story starts with five angels in heaven discussing how one of them Clara (Golda Schultz for all but one performance with Keratin Piper Brown) is sorry that she is not an Angel First Class with wings and all the attributes of an angel at this level.  She seizes her chance to save George,from jumping off a  bridge. George Bailey, sung by the excellent performer William Burden, has had a life of disappointment.  The plot to Heggie’s music and Scheer’s lyrics outlines George’s life by going back to his early years.

George’s dreams were never achieved although he lived a good life and helped others.  As a boy (Benjamin Drever) George’s first good deed was to save his brother Harry (Pablo Gracia as a boy) from falling through the ice and dying in the freezing water.  Then we follow George through youth, a high school dance and his early marriage and career years.

In this dance scene George and Mary Hatch (Andriana Churchman)  perform the MacKee-Mackee, from Fiji, one of the  places on George’s bucket-list of where he longs to visit.  The rest of the cast does swing, Charleston and other dances of the period.  This scene has the best dancing choreographed for opera by Keturah Stickman I’ve ever seen in opera.  David C. Woolard colorful costumes add to the joyous display.

Mary and George dance together.  She has always been in love with George since her girlhood (Violet Pasmooij as Young Mary).  Mary’s only dream is to marry George and live in Bedford Falls.  George’s are larger.  He wants to leave Bedford Falls and travel the world.

Just as George is to take off for college, his father has a stroke and he has to stay home to run the family’s Building and Loan Company and protect it from the greedy Mr. Potter (Rod Gifry) who wants to l incorporate it in his own rapacious empire. Instead of George, the brother Harry (Joshua Hopkins) goes to college, gets married and joins the firm of the father of his wife Helen (Carole Schaffer) in Troy.  He does not come back to Bedford Falls so George is stuck there.  The rest of the opera is a series of disappointments for George including the Crash and the Great Depression,  Although George was able to save the houses of the townspeople with the money saved for his cancelled honeymoon that was to take him and Mary abroad, the rest of his life is a series of disillusionments.

The children in the opera, Pasmooij, Drever, Gracia, Joshua Partlow, Keith Jameson and Cadence Goblirsch, plus the chorus of the townspeople (conducted by the SF Opera’s wonderful Ian Robertson) are adept at acting and singing and in some cases dancing as well.  Catherine Cook’s Mother Bailey is also believable and well performed.

Clara The Angel manipulates George’s life making it so that it never happened and that never existed at all, nor did the others in the story.  But in the end, by one of those same miracles that angels perform — and always for Christmas productions — he is saved by the townspeople who donate money so that his business is successful again. All is happy and Clara gets to advance to the status of First Class Angel.

“It’s a Wonderful Life”, an uplifting opera that since its debut in Houston (2016) and performed again at Indiana University (2017), has warmed hearts during the holiday season. It’s lesson is clear:  one’s own life can support a community and by extension, the world.  And friendship and good deeds are the most important ingredients in a good life.

The opera is spectacular with its gorgeous sets by Robert Brill, projections by Elaine J. McCarthy, lighting by  Brian Nason.  Conductor Patrick Summers leads the fine SF Opera Orchestra in the beautiful music that is a cross between that of American lyric stage such as “Carousel” and grand opera that requires the most highly trained voices. Leonard Folia’s direction of the quickly moving and exciting plot is excellent.  He also directed Heggie and Scheer’s “Three Decembers” and will direct their “Moby Dick” for PBS’s Great Performances.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” runs through December 9, 2018.  It is a perfect show for the entire family.  sfopera.com or 415 864 3330.