with Heidi Munzinger and John Shott, and Terri and Bob Ryan
Gearing up for the festival, we asked these ‘die-hard’ opera fans about memories from their favorite operas, strangest operas, and what they are most looking forward to in the
West Edge Opera festival, this summer.
Do you remember your first West Edge live performance?
What was it and what do you remember about it?
Terri and Bob: Our first West Edge opera (back when they were Berkeley Opera) that we can remember clearly was a Marriage of Figaro in 2001 at the Julia Morgan Theater. John Lindstrom was Bartolo, andthe Cherubino, Sonia Gariaeff, was on roller skates for some part of it! Susanna was Shawnette Sulker, and the Countess was Jillian Khuner. It was really pretty good for a small regional company!
Heidi and John: Our first West Edge (then Berkeley) Opera performance was Legend of the Ring at the El Cerrito Performing Arts Center in 2010. Being ‘Ring Nuts’ we had seen full cycles at the Met and in Seattle the previous year, so were excited to hear some of our favorite Wagnerian artists again in new roles. We particularly enjoyed watching Richard Paul Fink (the quintessential Alberich) play Wotan for a change, and the ever-lovely Marie Plette expand her repertoire from Freia and Gutrune to include a Rheinmaiden, Sieglinde, and a very cheeky Forest Bird on her cell phone watching over Siegfried!
Of all the strange places we made you go, which was your favorite?
Heidi and John: Our favorite ‘strange place’ to go was the abandoned 16th Street Train Station in Oakland for Lulu in 2015. We had never even heard of that historical site before but loved how Mark and his crew saw potential and transformed it into a performance venue. The rusting Beaux-Arts ironwork made for a perfect setting of Berg’s weird and wonderful opera about decadence and downfall.
Terri and Bob: We really liked the train station in Oakland. You could just see how beautiful it had been (and could be again with many millions of dollars).
Do you have any ‘opera-attending’ rituals?
You know, like not washing your favorite opera socks?
Terri and Bob: Bob goes through a three-step process to make sure his phone won’t ring during the performance…
Heidi and John: Our only ‘opera-attending ritual’ is to enjoy a good meal at a favorite restaurant beforehand and then visit the restrooms shortly thereafter...Ha! One needs to be well nourished (but dehydrated) to comfortably enjoy a performance.
You have seen hundreds of operas in your lifetime.
Can you describe the strangest opera experience you have had?
Strange in a good way? Maybe even more fun: strange in a not so good way?
Terri and Bob: We have probably seen well over 1,000 opera performances. It may be over 2,000, but we haven’t really kept good records.
Heidi and John: After over 25 years seeing almost 1000 performances at dozens of companies, several nights at the opera stand out as being particularly memorable:
The first was San Francisco Opera’s World Premiere of Harvey Milk at the Orpheum Theater in 1996 (when War Memorial Opera House was being renovated after the Loma Prieta earthquake); for the most part the audience members were even more outlandishly costumed than the cast, and the looks they got from tourists on the street as they exited the theater were priceless.
Terri and Bob: For ‘good strange’…If someone does something non-standard and it works,
we don’t tend to remember it as strange. There was a Hansel und Gretel done in Regensburg in Bavaria that was set in modern times and the witch’s house was covered in plastic bags of snacks instead of candy. We really liked it! The Good and the Bad: SFO's Milk & COC's Giovanni
And hmm…’bad strange’…Don Giovanni at Canadian Opera Company several years ago. It was a production by Dmitri Tcherniakov. (We will probably never knowingly see one of his productions again!)
Apparently, according to
Tcherniakov, the Don and the Commendatore were mafia types, Zerlina was Donna Anna’s daughter by some previous relationship, everyone in the show lived at the Commendatore’s mansion. The Don kills the Commendatore by accidentally shoving him against a bookshelf… Anyway, Terri almost walked out after the first scene. Bob convinced her to stay because one friend was singing Don Ottavio and another was singing Donna Anna.
The second odd strange was a Freischutz... For some reason known only to the director, it was a vampire tale. Need we say more.
Heidi and John: In 2004 we attended our second Met Ring Cycle; by then we were pretty familiar with the work so we, along with the rest of the audience, were horrified when at the end of Act II of Die Walküre the curtain came down prematurely before James Morris as Wotan could deliver his final lines! A collective gasp went up from the normally restrained audience and the curtain was hurriedly raised again while the orchestra continued playing, but by then the moment had passed so James just shrugged his shoulders and walked silently offstage. Gotta love a live performance where anything can happen.
Most recently, last October while everything was still shut down by COVID and everyone was starved for live opera, we drove to Tulsa, Oklahoma to see an abridged baseball-themed Rigoletto performed at ONEOK Field, home of the AA minor league Drillers. Not only was the sell-out crowd obviously thrilled to be there that night, but the ballpark concessionaires - many of whom had never seen an opera before - were equally engaged and enthusiastic. The only downside to the event occurred when the post-performance fireworks ignited a three-alarm fire on the roof of a building under construction across the street...which would have been a fitting conclusion if they had been performing Götterdämmerung !
(L-R: The Met's 2004 Ring and Tulsa Opera's Baseball Rigoletto)
Which opera are you most excited about seeing this summer at the festival? Why?
Terri and Bob: Katya! That’s because anything by Janáček is wonderful!
Heidi and John: The opera we are most looking forward to seeing at this summer’s festival is Elizabeth Cree. Having seen multiple performances of most of the standard repertoire we are now big fans of new works, and Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell are one of our favorite contemporary composer/librettist teams. Heidi is currently reading the Peter Ackroyd novel on which it’s based and can’t wait to see how the convoluted story is adapted to the stage!
Photos: Cory Weaver, Liz Hafalia, Michael Cooper, Ken Howard and Brett Rojo