The Opera Novice attends Anna Karenina, falls in love with opera

Jasmina Halimic as Anna Karenina and Krassen Karagiozov as her lover, Alexei Vronsky. Photo by Pat Kirk

So here we are again, the second opera of my entire life.  But after last season’s La Rondine I know that the opera can be pretty darn fun, and I was excited to see Anna Karenina.   Once again I’m going to write this review from a beginner’s point of view and I hope that I get through to some of you out there who have yet to see an opera – because this show has the ability to turn an opera hater into a season pass holder.

It just so happens that I read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina over the summer and I was ready to see what Opera SJ did with the story.  Well let me tell you what they did with it:  Utterly and completely created a SMASH HIT.  In what has to be one of the most novice-friendly operas ever created, Opera SJ also put everything they had creatively, imaginatively, financially and talent-wise, into this production.  This isn’t a great opera dumbed down for the masses, this is a spectacular production that is also easy for an opera newbie to understand… and love.

Eight reasons to see Anna Karenina:

  1. It follows Tolstoy’s story. We all hate when Hollywood gets hold of our favorite book and renders it unrecognizable.  While this opera does leave out some parts of Tolstoy’s novel, it keeps the main love tri- and quadrangles in and focuses on those.  If you know the novel well it is unlikely you will miss the side plots that have been left out.
  2. Musical familiarity. The musical influence of Tchaikovsky is undeniable, and it brings an understanding that even someone unfamiliar with any classical music will recognize.  There is also quite a bit of American Musical Theatre in the melodies and some parts that resonate as a well produced Hollywood musical.  Perhaps the opera veteran will not appreciate the American style of this opera, but an unfamiliar newbie will feel very at home here.
  3. English! That’s right, not only is this opera in English, but they STILL have the English supertitles playing above the stage in case you missed something.
  4. Seamless Scene Changes Galore: With 15 scenes and 18 scene changes, this is a show that is undeniably difficult to produce.  However from the stark but beautiful opening scene with only a fallen chandelier on the floor, to a country scene in both spring and fall, to elaborate interior sets, these changes were performed quickly and imaginatively, and sparing no opportunity to add another piece of beauty at every chance.
  5. Sumptuous costumes: What I’m learning is that the opera spares no expense with their beautiful costumes.  The women were gorgeous, the men were handsome, Anna herself could be picked out at any moment in any scene, and even the little kids were dressed to perfection.
  6. Hollywood/Broadway staging and choreography: No, there are no big dance numbers here, but there are several scenes with crowds that are choreographed beautifully.  Yes, the word beautiful is being overused in this review, but this show really is a visual treat.
  7. A great story. I wasn’t all that enthused with the novel Anna Karenina, to tell you the truth.  But it certainly is a great story, and watching the characters brought to life exactly as I had imagined really was fun.  And if you’ve never read the story you will really enjoy the tale of loveless marriages, cheating and affairs, broken and mended hearts, death and birth.
  8. My 18 year old loved it. “That was the best of all the shows you’ve ever dragged me to,” said my daughter.  And I have “dragged” her to a lot of shows.  This was her first opera and she is ready for her next.  She also can’t wait to dress even MORE fancy, now that she has seen what regular opera patrons wear.  If my 18 year old daughter can fall in love with this show, then I can assure that you will too.

(L-R) Lydia Ivanova (Kindra Scharich), Prince Yashvin (Paul Murray), Princess Betsy (Megan Stetson), Stiva Oblonsky (Michael Mendelsohn), and Dolly Oblonsky (Betany Coffland). Photo by Pat Kirk

Although I’m an Opera Novice, to be fair I will present both sides of this story.  There were rumblings around us that there were no actual songs, just lines that were sung.  I believe they are correct, but it had no effect on my enjoyment of the show.  Seasoned opera lovers may feel differently.   There were other rumblings about not seeing where the “love” was actually coming from.  This is a problem with Tolstoy’s book, as I felt the same way when reading it.  But if you can put aside the “Why” and just accept when the characters tell you they “are” then you will be fine.  We suspend more disbelief watching Hollywood movies, so I’m willing to forgive this one offense.

If you are not familiar with the story at all I do recommend you read the synopsis in your program before the show.  Russian characters have several names and many nicknames, so it might confuse you to realize both Anna’s husband and her lover are both called Alexei unless you read the synopsis first.

I urge you to take a chance on the opera and come see this fantastic show.  Of the four events I attended this week Anna Karenina was the only one which appeared sold out.   Any seat in the house will provide a great view so take this chance to dress like a movie star and turn yourself into an opera lover like I am now.

Anna Karenina
West Coast premiere of new David Carlson opera
In English with English Supertitles
September 11 – 26
California Theatre
345 S. First Street, San Jose
408 437-4450

1 Comment so far

  1. Review Roundup « oboeinsight (pingback) on September 15th, 2010 @ 12:21 am

    […] Not For Fun Only (Axel Feldheim) Opera Tattler (Charlise Tiee) Operaville (Michael J. Vaughn) San Jose Metblog (Cynthia […]

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