Archive for the ‘2013-14 Season’ Category

By Marilyn Farwell

For The Register-Guard


When Eugene Opera concentrates its resources and energy, it is capable of creating an exceptional production.

In the last several years, the opera has presented, as its second offering of the season, a lesser-known opera and succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations for a small opera company.

On Friday evening, it unveiled a rarely performed opera by Giacomo Puccini, “The Girl of the Golden West,” and with minimalist sets, a group of fine soloists and some solid stage direction, it produced a hit.

In 1910, Puccini’s opera was billed as an American opera when it premiered at the Metropolitan Opera, but his view of the American West was just as exotic and removed as his view of Japan in “Madama Butterfly.”

The opera is a romantic Western melodrama that modern Americans may find laughable, but if Friday’s audience is any indication we still cheer when the heroine Minnie enters with guns blazing, wins a poker game from the bad guy (baritone), and, at the end, goes into the future — alive — with her reformed bandit boyfriend (tenor).

The opera also contains some of Puccini’s most daring music, influenced by his avant-garde contemporaries, Richard Wagner, Claude Debussy and Richard Strauss.

Because Puccini, like Wagner, concentrated most of this opera’s musical meaning in heavily orchestrated, repeated motifs, the soloists must be able to sing through a powerful orchestra.

As the tavern owner Minnie, soprano Emily Pulley successfully filled the Hult with her ringing voice. Her intense acting became the center of the production and convinced us to believe in this corny story.

As the bandit Ramirez, Raul Melo made a splendid vocal impression. Although his acting is wooden, his sumptuous spinto tenor voice is charismatic.

In his last-act aria, the only clear-cut aria of the opera, Melo sang with conviction even if it was to his own tempo. As “sceriffo” Jack Rance, baritone Aaron St. Clair Nicholson was vocally and dramatically effective, although at times his voice was lost in the orchestral sound.

This opera also requires numerous comprimario roles and an all-male chorus representing the miners. Standouts included local singers Brennen Guillory as the bartender, and, in his first appearance with Eugene Opera, musical comedy regular Bill Hulings as Ashby.

Sandy Naishtat had fun as the card-cheat, Sid, and Harry Baechtel as the camp minstrel sang a lovely ballad.

Jonathan Christopher gave a strong performance as the ever-compassionate Sonora. The male chorus was excellent vocally and dramatically.

Andrew Bisantz conducted with sweeping lyricism and precision, although at times the orchestra overwhelmed the singers.

The sets were attractive minimalist outlines of a tavern, Minnie’s cabin, and, least effective, the last-act hanging scene.

David Lefkowich’s stage direction was crucial because some scenes would be laughable without a deft hand.

The second act in Minnie’s cabin opens with two Native Americans speaking in ways that would be objectionable to our current sensibilities. Both the sanitized supertitles and Lefkowich’s careful direction avoided anything embarrassing.

This production sets a gold standard for Eugene Opera’s future efforts.

Marilyn Farwell, a professor emerita of English at the University of Oregon, reviews vocal and choral music for The Register-Guard.


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All photographs by Eugene Opera’s official photographer, Cliff Coles:

Here’s Minnie’s saloon, “The Polka”



Sheriff Jack Rance (Aaron St. Clair Nicholson) shakes hands with the only Wells Fargo agent in operatic history, Ashby (William Hulings)


This image tells us a lot about Our Girl Minnie (Emily Pulley)


As does this–Minnie and The Miners:


And this:


Ashby and The Miners:


Rance and Nick (Brenden Guillory), the “Polka’s” bartender:


Minnie and Dick Johnson, aka Ramirrez (tenor Raul Melo) in an intimate moment in Act II:

 0390Minnie, taking care of herself later in Act II with a dangerous Rance:


The Native Americans, Wowkle (Lina Delmastro) and Billy Jackrabbit (Joseph Bonnevie)–just two of our many international, national, and local artists who, under the inspired guidance of director David Lefkowich and our Music Director Andrew Bisantz, have made more of these characters than was thought possible:


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Images of the West arrest the eye

By Bob Keefer

For The Register-Guard


Here in the maritime Northwest — with our gray skies, perpetual rain and evergreen forests — it’s easy to forget we’re just a half a day’s drive from the other West — the one tamed by cowboys, carpeted by sagebrush and overarched by endless big skies.

A new exhibit at Eugene’s White Lotus Gallery takes a look at that other West through the eyes of five local artists, including four photographers and one printmaker and painter.

“The Golden West,” which runs for another month, was put together in conjunction with Eugene Opera’s production of Giacomo Puccini’s “Girl of the Golden West,” which runs this weekend at the Hult Center.

Let’s start with the work of Charles Search. His black-and-white photographs of the open landscapes of the inland West combine great craft and deep subtlety. Yes, we’ve seen lots of pictures of this landscape before. But look again at Search’s work.

His 2009 photo “Spring Respite at Alkali Flat” — printed the old-fashioned way, in a darkroom on gelatin-silver paper — offers a surprising composition, with heavy clouds and dark mountains above balanced only by pale reflections in the desert lake bed below.

The composition shouldn’t work — the photo should be top heavy — and yet, somehow, it’s beautifully and satisfyingly composed.

A second image by Search is also compelling. His 2004 “Down From the Mountain,” a wide, panoramic view of distant mountains with a river in front, is again just odd enough in its construction to catch the eye despite its common subject matter.

Search also has several large-format­ portraits of cowboys. They veer a bit into sentimentality but are engaging nonetheless.

White Lotus regulars will be familiar with the color photography of Eugene’s Gary Tepfer. Best known for his work in Mongolia and Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly, he is one of the last color darkroom printers still working in this digital age.

Shooting with a square-format camera, Tepfer makes exquisite color prints using the venerable Cibachrome or Ilfochrome process, which gives beautiful and archival color prints with a great color range. Sadly, the Ilford company announced its last production run of the paper in 2012, so I hope Tepfer stocked up.

His work in this show includes images from Canyon de Chelly as well as Oregon’s Owyhee River country. One picture, “Hogan Interior,” captures the inside of a Navajo cabin in lush warm tones. But even better are landscapes such as his 1992 “Red Clay Cliffs,” which has all the poise and perfection of a finely done painting.

David Butler is a photographer that I hadn’t encountered in the past. His simple “Bodie, Interior,” a modest look at a chair inside a cabin, is a great study in understated color.

Rich Bergeman’s work in the show strives to capture the perfect detail in small black-and-white shots, such as a set of picket fences caught in a yard in Harney County’s Frenchglen or the door of an old jailhouse in Antelope.

Finally, sprinkled into the midst of all this photography are the quite different portraits of cowgirls and ranch women done by Eugene artist Lynda Lanker. Done in a variety of mediums, mostly printmaking processes of various kinds, the portraits are spare, monochromatic and intimate, showing us the human side of the Western landscape.

Much of the work in the show has been seen before in other exhibitions. What makes this new exhibit especially appealing is the way the White Lotus has arranged the work not by artist or by subject matter but almost as a conversation between the pieces.

Go see it on your way to the opera.

Bob Keefer is a regular reviewer of art for The Register-Guard.


The Golden West

What: Prints and photographs of the American West

When: Through April 12

Where: White Lotus Gallery, 767 Willamette St.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday

Contact: 541-345-3276 or wlotus.com

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The bold West sings its way into the heart of Eugene

A tale of the American frontier, translated by Giacomo Puccini

By Randi Bjornstad

The Register-Guard


The wild, wild West comes to the stage this weekend — sure as shootin’ — as Eugene Opera presents “The Girl of the Golden West.”

It’s a classic spaghetti Western love triangle, set in Gold Rush-era California: good woman (rough-and-tough outside, heart of gold within) falls in love with misunderstood bandit, breaking the heart of honorable sheriff who loves her so much that he lets them both get away.

And it’s a spaghetti Western in another way, too, because it was written by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini, one of the biggest names in opera — you can even call it “La Fanciulla del West” if you want — for the New York Metropolitan Opera, which first performed it in 1910.

It was quite an event back then. Enrico Caruso sang the part of bad guy Dick Johnson, aka Ramerrez, to Emmi Destinn’s Minnie. And Arturo Toscanini himself conducted.

Wow again, because the three leads in the show — soprano Emily Pulley as Minnie, tenor Raul Melo as Johnson/­Ramerrez and baritone Aaron St. Clair Nicholson as Sheriff Rance — all are veterans of the Metropolitan Opera stage.

They’ll be joined by Eugene’s own William Hulings as Ashby, the Wells Fargo agent on the trail of the bandit, and Brennen Guillory, a Lutheran pastor from Junction City who plays Nick, the bartender.

Andrew Bisantz — now in his fourth season as Eugene Opera’s music director, besides working with orchestras all over the country and the world — will conduct.

Pulley has sung the role of Minnie for years, and it has personal as well as professional meaning for her.

“I remember the first time I saw the show, I fell in love with the character,” she said. “That time period is part of the myth of the American West, and if I’d lived in that time, Minnie is the character I would hope to have been.”

Then Pulley pulls out her cellphone and scrolls through photos until she comes to one of her great-great grandfather, John Frederich Grau.

“He called himself J. Fred, and he was a sheriff in the Oklahoma Territory at about the same time this opera is set, so I think of him,” she said.

“I love this show because Minnie — she’s one of only two women among the main characters — is sister, mother, friend and teacher to all of the miners. She even teaches them about the Bible.

“This is basically a story of redemption in the Old West. These are all such human, human characters.”

For Melo, singing the Johnson/Ramerrez role is a first.

“I’m really excited to be doing it; I get to be a cowboy,” Melo said. “This opera is the trope for practically every movie Western, with the good woman who sees the good in a man and saves him from the wrong path.

“Even the music from this opera has been stolen for all kinds of other movies, including the big love tune in ‘Phantom of the Opera.’ Same key and everything.”

Melo has plumbed the depths of his role, a combination of the bandit Ramerrez and the pretender cowboy, Johnson.

“What I’m trying to do is not to act like I’m not a bandit, just not to say it,” he said. “So the question is, ‘Why is this character a bandit?’

“And the answer is, because this is all part of history. It’s a very complex backstory.”

A history lesson

The opera takes place circa 1900, about the time the U.S. government declared the end of the Western frontier, Melo said.

“Before that, parts of the West had been under Spanish control for centuries, then Mexican, and then American,” he said.

As time passed and governance changed, “Land was taken away from many of the big landholders — some of them were even killed — their cattle were stolen and their way of live destroyed. There was nothing left for their sons but to become bandits, and of course there was also some taking of revenge.”

But in the opera, Melo gets “only 12 measures” to convey this complicated history.

“I have this crazy, very difficult thing to sing: Yes, I’m a bandit; no, I didn’t rob you; yes, I’m ashamed; that’s the way life is — and then I have this high note that lasts for six measures.”

It’s not so much the difficulty of holding the note that concerns him, but “the dread of what color I turn,” Melo quipped. “No amount of makeup will cover that purple.”

When it comes to being on the losing end in the pursuit of Minnie, St. Clair Nicholson said, the sheriff may be the antagonist, “but he’s not evil.”

“He feels his own kind of love, but he’s a man of honor,” he said. “His honor and his obsession battle within him, but he keeps his word.”

It may all be a bit melodramatic, but that’s the way of both spaghetti Western movies and operas, “and I think this one is a masterpiece that really appeals to people,” St. Clair Nicholson said.

A genuine horse opera

As for Hulings, “The Girl of the Golden West” is his debut performance with Eugene Opera, “and I’m excited to be in the same room with these folks,” he said.

“I’m continually watching what they do, and they’ve been tremendously welcoming, and I’m also trying to bring my theater experience along.”

This production is a premiere for Eugene Opera, and general director Mark Beudert sees it as a real crowd-pleaser.

Even for people who don’t know much about opera or think they don’t like it, “This won’t be boring,” Beudert said, because of the spirited acting this group of opera singers is known for, the nontraditional cowboy costuming, the American West plot line and the participation of local people who make up the supporting cast.

At the same time, he said, coming to it with an appreciation of history that recognizes the contributions — and confrontations — among people of all cultures who settled the West also is important.

“This opera is not like fast food. You have to chew it, but it’s tasty, and it’s good,” Beudert said. “And it’s being performed by people who want to share the meal with everyone.”

Follow Randi on Twitter @BjornstadRandi. Email randi.bjornstad@registerguard.com.


The Girl of the Golden West

When: 7:30 p.m. March 14 and 2:30 p.m. March 16

Where: Silva Concert Hall, Hult Center, Seventh Avenue and Willamette Street

Tickets and information: $20 to $69 (541-682-5000, hultcenter.org ,eugeneopera.com )

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This New Year’s Eve, Eugene Opera opens its 37th season with Verdi’s La Traviata.   Our traditional sets will be by Ercole Sormani, the same artist who did the sets for La Boheme and Carmen.  Here they are act by act, both bare and with singers:

Act ITRAVIATA Act 1 bare stageTRAVIATA Act 1 dress rehearsal


Act II

TRAVIATA Act 2 bare stageTRAVIATA Act 2 dress rehearsal



TRAVIATA Act 3 bare stageTRAVIATA Act 3 dress rehearsal


Act IV

TRAVIATA Act 4 bare stageTRAVIATA large set Act 4 without PUT-21

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There’s going to be a lot about Dead Man Walking over the next two weeks, but for the moment–let’s look forward to next season:  La traviata and the Eugene premiere of  The Girl of the Golden West!

Here’s a short preview of our New Year’s Eve opera:  Joan Sutherland hitting Sempre Libera out of the park, c. 1966.

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