California Opera's annual summer festival enters its second weekend with three free events. Here's a rundown:
-- "Madama Butterfly," 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 3, Fresno Art Museum, 2233 N. First St. This is the second of the festival's abridged productions, without a full chorus but featuring the principal roles and arias. The featured cast is Miwako Isano as Cio-Cio San, Zachary Sheely as Pinkerton, Limuel Forgey as Sharpless, Bryn Riley as Suzuki and Holly Van Hoey as Kate Pinkerton.
I attended the first abridged production of the festival, "La Traviata," and it was a rousing event, both vocally and in terms of capturing the passion and intensity of the material. (Suzanna Mizell gave us a ravishing Violetta, Sheely was in fine form as Alfredo, and Forgey was very impressive as a nuanced Germont. Noted international concert pianist Termizhan Yerzhanov provided the able accompaniment.)
Besides the excellent singing -- and the intimacy of the museum's Bonner Auditorium -- another thing I liked was the format. Let's face it; we don't always have the time (or patience) to sit through a full-length major opera, especially a classic one that you may already have repeatedly seen. This "Traviata" flew by, hitting the high points, and still managed to have a powerful emotional punch.
Key to all this was the narration by Ioanna Sfekas-Karvelas, who stitched together the storyline for us with a sense of drama and style. The timbre of her voice and her jaunty insights added another level of sophistication to the experience. She'll be narrating "Madama Butterfly," as well.
-- "An Evening in Memory," 7 p.m. Saturday, Fresno Art Museum. The annual concert honors members of the opera's board, staff, faculty, members, patrons and performers who passed on during the preceding year. Honored this year is Gloria Garabedian-Taylor.
-- "La Sonnambula," 2 p.m. Sunday, Mercedes Edwards Theatre, 902 Fifth St., Clovis. The major weekend event of the festival is this fully staged production, with orchestra, of the Bellini classic opera about a heroine who sleepwalks. The role of Amina, to be sung in this production by San Francisco soprano Jamie Bonetto, is renowned for its difficulty.
Other cast members include Matthew Acuff as Count Rodolfo, Donald Squillace as Elvino, Merina Amos as Lisa and Alexandra Jerinic as Teresa. Leanna Sterios-Primiani conducts.
All performances are free. Details: calopera.org, (559) 225-6737.
The reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (559) 441-6373. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.