With art comes opinions, always a good thing. I certainly had my opinion about the Fresno Grand Opera production of “Dead Man Walking” – I thought it was terrific – and some of my readers had strong feelings, too. Here’s a contrarian view in an email from a reader named Owen:
Did we attend the same performance of “Dead Man..” Saturday evening? Is your glowing report in today’s Bee another case of the “Emperor’s New Clothes”?
The only words I could understand, before the intermission, were said by a guard to the female lead “…do yourself a favor and go home…”
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When I go to the opera, if I cannot understand the words (Italian, French…) I can enjoy the music! But where was the music Saturday evening? I have heard several of the singers at the Mia Cuppa Café, and their voices were astounding! Where were they Saturday?
My daughter and I took the guard’s advice and left, with others, at the intermission.
The following Sunday, at the Golden Chain Theater’s production of “Steel Magnolias,” I discovered that the lady next to me had the same objections, and she too, with friends, left at the intermission!
I do appreciate what Buckmans is doing, bringing ”art” to Fresno….but please, no more Andy Warhol, soup cans and other spilled paint on a canvas!
The reader is alluding to several concerns. I can’t address his issues with the listenability of the music or the quality of the singing, which in both cases I thought were exceptional. (Again, different opinions.) But I can expand on the lack of supertitles in the first act. I asked the opera’s general director, Matthew Buckman to respond. He writes:
The projector that displays the supertitles during performances malfunctioned right before the performance began. It had been tested and focused ten minutes before the doors to the theatre were opened. The extent of the problem was not fully assessed until after the overture had begun, when it was determined that the problem would take approximately 40 minutes to fix. Since the performance had already begun, and the fix would have required delaying the start until at least 8:15 pm, we decided to let the performance continue. We sincerely apologize for the effect it had on our guests and their experience of a great piece of art.
The supertitles were fixed for the second act.
Reader Don Larson agreed with me about the power of the production. He left this phone message:
You expressed in your column what I felt at the opera Saturday night. I thought it was a stunning performance. I’m really tired of people saying “nothing happens in Fresno,” or as one Fresno State professor said it, “Fresberg,” which just infuriates me. We have some pretty incredible things going on. That opera was wonderful Saturday night.
Robert Wood enjoyed the second half of “Dead Man Walking” immensely. But he was so miffed at the lack of supertitles during the first half that he went in person to the opera office on Monday morning to ask for “half a refund.”
“Edwards has given my money back before when there were sound problems,” he told me in a phone call. “Why should it be any different with an opera?”
His request, he says, was denied, and he doesn’t think that was very good customer service.
I’ll wrap things up with another of the many pro-opera comments I received, this one on Facebook from Kerry McGuire:
If opera is telling a story and reaching into the depths of your heart and soul then Dead Man Walking succeeded in doing that. I was pulled into this emotionallly reveting story from the minute the curtain was raised. Yes it would have been better if there were supertitles so I could have focused all my attention on the voices, the orchestra and the acting but one can't deny that this was one of the most dramatic, compelling and moving performances that Fresno Grand Opera has delivered. You don't need a stage filled with a beautiful set if you have a stage filled with beautiful actors, voices and an emotional story. Well done Matthew Buckman!!