Some Stage Notes

It's time again for a look at what's going on in Bay area performing arts news:

Mixed Notices: You may have been wondering what happened to Anton Coppola's opera Sacco & Vanzetti after it's brief premiere run at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center in March. Have any other opera companies decided that they want the work in one of their coming seasons? Did the national opera press ever get around to reviewing it?

Well, the answers are "maybe" and "yes." According to TBPAC president Judith Lisi, there's been "a great deal of interest" from various companies in and out of the U. S., including the New York City Opera — but nobody's yet made a definite commitment. And "opera companies move very slow, and the other thing is, opera companies in America, they like having the premiere, so doing the second production sometimes is almost harder than doing the premiere."

Meanwhile, Maestro Coppola is "reducing the show a bit," Lisi said. "I guess he's trying to edit out about half an hour of it, so that it's a little more manageable. And the opera companies that he has spoken to, who do have an interest in it, said it would be helpful to them if it were a little shorter."

As for national reviews, it took several months, but two publications have recently weighed in on Coppola's work. In the July issue of Opera News, Lawrence A. Johnson opines that the world premiere was "a triumph for the 83-year-old Coppola, who conducted the performance ... with remarkable vigor and commitment." True, Johnson says, "Coppola indulges in some hoary rhetorical red flag-waving in the program book and in the early scenes, but radical-chic politics, happily, takes a back seat to the fascinating story and music."

And though "Coppola's canvas is large," says Johnson, "his opera remains undeniably compelling throughout its length." It's "full of memorable moments" and evidences "a highly accessible musical style" reminiscent of Puccini and Barber. Coppola's music "lacks an individual voice" at times, and solo arias "seem closer to Broadway than to the opera house." Nevertheless, most of the leads sing their roles distinctively, and "All credit to Opera Tampa for taking a big gamble and making it pay off so well. ... Coppola's attractive, compelling work merits wider advocacy."

A very different tone is taken by reviewer Wes Blomster in the July/August issue of Opera Now. Blomster is critical of what he sees as S&V's "excesses:" yes, the libretto is well made but "the music, which bears witness to the composer's long association with Puccini and Debussy, does not keep pace with the drama. Despite many climactic moments — most of them show a firm hand in choral composition — Coppola fails to construct the arch of suspense and tension traditional in tragedy."

Further, the work's 16 parts "are disjointed and many of them do little to advance the story. Even the inclusion of a narrator fails to bring either focus or coherence to the often-static score." The performances by all the lead players are excellent, he writes, but "despite its ethnic references, Coppola's score is essentially amorphous and too intent upon easy accessibility to underscore the tormented story at hand."

Still, the Tampa audience on opening night "was enthusiastic in its approval of the composer's warm lyricism," making the opera "clearly a triumph," at least to local "eyes and ears."

Whose view is right? Time is the fat lady, and it ain't over till she sings. Hang in there and we'll see.

E Pluribus Unum: What could be one of the most important meetings in local theater history is scheduled for Aug. 20.

On that date, artistic directors and managers from as many as a dozen area theater organizations will hold a meeting as the Theatre Unity Committee. The purpose of the organization will be to discover if, by working together, Bay area and Sarasota theaters can improve the visibility of drama in the area, and foster and develop theatergoing.

Specific goals include the possible creation of a "West Coast Theater Consortium" offering information, Web links and special discounts to consortium members and their patrons; the institution of an annual "Theater Appreciation Banquet" (instead of a competitive awards banquet); and the planning of an annual Theater Unity Party like the one a few weeks ago hosted by the LiveArts Peninsula Foundation and four other theater companies. It was at that event — attended by about 200 actors, writers, directors, designers, technicians and administrators — that the Theatre Unity Committee was formed.

Mahaffey Theater Foundation executive director David Rowell, a committee member, attributes the inspiration for the group to LiveArts general manager Diana Leavengood and her husband, Bill Leavengood, LiveArts' artistic director. "I think the intention is to grow this to be not just theater but to be dance and music as well," says Rowell. And though he admits that the committee is just getting off the ground, "I think this is a great beginning step for this group. And it's kind of an informal, ad hoc kind of situation to start, but I think it could grow into something stronger."

There are relatively few theaters in this area and they all could benefit from more unity — in publicity and scheduling, among other things.

Let's hope this idea turns into reality as soon as possible.

Vampires and Mallrats: Jobsite Theater has announced that its 2001-02 season will take place exclusively in the Shimberg Playhouse of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

That season begins with a preview of Steven Dietz's Dracula, a humorous/horrific take on the classic Bram Stoker thriller (runs Nov. 1-17). Next, an area favorite returns when rock musician Joe Popp presents Maxwell (Jan. 4-20), about a future in which machines do all of humankind's work. Spring shuffles solemnly into Tampa with Jean Claude van Itallie's The Tibetan Book of the Dead (March 21-31), which combines theater, music, dance and visual artistry as it traces a soul's journey to the afterlife and from there to rebirth. Back on Earth in the industrial Northeast, Eric Bogosian's subUrbia (June 7-23) shows us the young denizens of a mini-mall convenience store in all their anger, angst and anomie. Paul Potenza, a veritable Doctor of Bogosian Studies, directs. Finally, Jobsite ends its impressive season with its annual festival of short plays; this time it's called Original Works 2002: Acropolis Project (Aug. 16-Sept. 1), and includes the making of a TV pilot by survivors of a catastrophe. Ami Sallee Corley directs.

For tickets and information, call 813-229-STAR.

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