West Coast Premiere
Massachusetts, 1841. 13-year-old Emmeline is sent to work
in the mills to help support her family, who have fallen on
hard times. Though circumstance is not kind, the years pass
and she returns to her family. The creation of the railroad
brings new workers to her town. One young man falls in love
with Emmeline, and takes her as his wife. But the wedding
celebration reveals terrible complications. Tobias Picker’s
unabashedly Romantic score sets Judith Rossner’s retelling
of the Oedipus story from Jocasta’s point of view. “Emmeline
promotes an old habit of music that three generations
of nontonalists have been unable to break: that harmony
of the spirit equals musical consonance. It is a pleasure to
come across a new American opera that works this well.”
–Bernard Holland, The New York Times
This production of Emmeline is sponsored by Sandra and Borue O’Brien
Arts & Entertainment
Around & About--Here and There--in Theater & Opera
By Ken Bullock
Monday June 07, 2010
Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma was founded by an operatic baritone 38 years ago, and has produced many excellent operas in the old schoolhouse on a knoll where its performing arts series and school classes are held. But the current show, Tobias Picker's EMMELINE, in its West Coast premiere, is something else again.
Based on a true story, fictionalized by Judith Rossner, it tells the tale of a 14 year-old girl in 19th century New England, sent to a garment factory, where she's seduced and sent home pregnant, and the doomed romance that follows 20 years of spinsterhood, in thrall to her family's sense of shame, when the past boomerangs back into the present. Picker's music is, in SF Classical Voice critic Jeff Kaliss's comment on opening night, reminiscent at times of Benjamin Britten's operas. Sublime and relentless, it carries along a story which could prove melodramatic, though it finally touches on a genuine modern sense of tragedy.
Yet there's humor, and wonderful little moments (Emmeline, smiling at the oppressive factory, when she sees her own face for the first time in a mirror--and years later smiling at a simple tune on harmonica, played by the young man she falls for). An unusually balaced opera, musically and dramatically.
Superb singing and acting by the principals, in particular the remarkable Carrie Hennessey, who runs the gamut of the years as Emmeline, a part Patricia Racette (now at SF Opera as Marguerite in a fine FAUST) originated at Santa Fe. Excellent small orchestra, conducted by Nina Shuman (Samuel Bill's arrangement) and chorus, many the young students of Cinnabar's own program, playing and singing the factory girls their own age.Excellent stage direction by Cinnabar artistic director Elly Lichtenstein. Picker has also composed an opera to Dreiser's AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY. This packs a similar social--and emotional--wallop.
Petaluma might seem a ways off--really not so far--and if you go,you won't forget a great, yet intimate musical and dramatic experience.
"Based on this splendid showcase by Cinnabar, together with the fine recording of the 1996 production by the Santa Fe Opera (with Patricia Racette in the title role), 'Emmeline' more than deserves the enthusiasm of opera-goers and performers, and should receive a permanent place in the repertoire. Catch it while you can."
"Aside from the soprano’s vocal power and clarity, Hennessey manifests a subtle theatrical skill as she mutates (with little time offstage) from a shy, naive daughter to a romantically vulnerable adolescent to a desperately passionate woman in early middle age."
"As in other elements of Cinnabar’s memorable production, strong singing is matched, across the ensemble, by acting above and beyond the level encountered at some opera companies whether big or small, here under the careful and caring stage direction of Elly Lichenstein." Read more...
San Francisco Classical Voice
"Soprano Carrie Hennessey is a delight in the role of Emmeline...the cast and live orchestra are fantastic... of particular note is the great performance by Cary Ann Rosko as Emmeline's Aunt Hannah, a no-nonsense, emotionally distant, Bible-thumping woman." Read more...
Petaluma Argus Courier
Preview by Jeff Kaliss
"It’s a story of unknowing maternal incest in mid-19th-century Maine, but composer Tobias Picker thinks it will be right at home in Petaluma’s Cinnabar Performing Arts Theater, and he’ll be there next week during dress rehearsals to help parent the West Coast premiere of his creation."
Picker said he would be “excited to see what Elly [Lichenstein, Cinnabar’s executive director and stage director] has done with the production [of Emmeline]. I’ve heard such good things about her and Cinnabar for years; it’s a very famous place, actually. ... And less is more, when it comes to opera-house size.” Read more...