Misc. Reviews

Philip Glass' opera rises above tragedy

There can't be a more unpretentious spot to check out opera than the Oakland Metro. This janky little theater is tucked in tacky Jack London Square, and you can get edible underwear at the sex shop right next door. The Metro is currently home to the Oakland Opera Theater's uneven but moving production of Philip Glass' 1996 tragic opera Les Enfants Terribles, based on the Jean Cocteau film and novel of the same name.

Enfantsis set in a constricted, incestuous fantasy world created by an orphaned brother and sister. They've turned their shared bedroom into a sickly dreamland they call "the Game," represented on stage by soaring, terse operatics, modern dance, and budget set design. This being opera, we are treated to good stuff like murder, rape, colonialism, betrayal, inter-sibling kinkiness, and suicide in the 90 minutes it takes for the kids' dream world to completely melt down, burying them, their adoptive mother, and two friends in the rubble.

The opera's engine is Glass' score, which calls for three pianos and nothing else. The Oakland Opera secured a triumvirate of grand pianos from Sherman Clay & Co, and they're set in a line against the stage, with conductor Deirdre McClure at the head. The score is delicate, music-box Glass, each song based around a simple melodic notion that unfurls and mutates expansively. At points all three pianos hammer in unison, sometimes one performer takes the lead, and often all three fillip off each other, tumbling Glass' wistful melodies through a kaleidoscope.

Michael Lavine

The three-grand-piano setup is a spectacle in such a tiny space, but the real draw is Joohee Choi as the female lead. Her Tony-nominated soprano sulks, teases, and powers through the libretto (in French, with supertitles projected over the stage). She's spent the last few years as an artist in residence with the Los Angeles Opera, and why she's slumming it in this little production is anyone's guess. Choi manages to totally own the stage without overpowering her co-stars, although a few of the dancers are so distractingly amateur that you wish Choi could be holding up the show in several places at once.

 
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