Operas hit the right note

On Thursday, Feb. 7 two operas premiered titled, “The Deserted Island” (L’Isola Disabitata) by Joseph Haydn, and “Riders to the Sea” by Ralph Vaughan Williams. 

The two one-act operas feature parallel storylines involving island passions and will be playing until Sunday, Feb. 17, each show beginning at 7:30 p.m. in Person Theatre.

Both operas contrasted greatly in plot, but still focused on the theme of water in honor of Sonoma State’s “Water Works” initiative.

As such, both operas took place on islands, showing that water can have an influence on people’s lives, that even if the sea takes away something dear to us like in “Riders to the Sea,” it can also bring back what was lost like in “The Deserted Island.” 

“The Deserted Island,” was the first opera of the night and also the more cheerful of the two productions. Two sisters, Costanza (Kathryn Foster) and Silvia (Kathleen Barnes), have been trapped on a deserted island for over 15 years, and Costanza has always believed her husband Gernando (Ted Smith) abandoned them there. 

As Costanza walks off to mourn their fate, her younger sister Silvia sees an unknown ship approaching. Not knowing what to do, Silvia hides and soon discovers that it is Gernando and his best friend Enrico (Max Jennings); the latter of whom Silvia falls in love with.

Gernando and Enrico came to the island to rescue Costanza and Silvia, and after several different occurrences of them playing hide and seek to find each other, they got to live happily ever after. Even Silvia and Enrico (who only knew each other for about an hour) get married at the end. 

Despite some of the silly aspects of the opera, like Silvia apparently never meeting a man before Enrico, the first performance went smoothly overall. 

All the actors did a phenomenal job, especially since every line had to be sung and they were able to maintain that. 

While the first opera had such a light hearted ending, “Riders to the Sea” was morbid in comparison. Set in old Ireland on an island, it follows the story of an elderly woman named Maurya (Talia Trozzo) and her two daughters Nora (Sarah Sims) and Cathleen (Canela Fullbright McCoubrey) as they mourn the loss of Michael, the fifth son of Maurya to die at sea.

Bartley (Phillip Ferrero), Maurya’s last son, decides to look for Michael despite his mother’s warnings, only to suffer a similar fate thanks to his own horse throwing him off the edge of a cliff. 

The opera ends with the village women mourning Bartley’s tragic death. 

During both operas, viewers will notice the use of supertitles on stage, allowing a helpful way of keeping up with the dialogue and perhaps a partial distraction to those with grand listening skills. 

The scenery, while splendid and subtle in both operas, took advantage of some surprising use of props. In “Riders to the Sea,” if paying close attention one could hear the ambient sounds of wind passing through as an actor entered or departed by door. 

Creative uses of lighting stood out in certain aspects of the shows as well. 

When the two actors Ted Smith and Max Jennings make their appearance in “The Deserted Island,” audience members get to enjoy a bit of interaction with actress Kathleen Barnes as she looks out into the theater, seeing both men arriving on stage from the left side of the room. 

The crowd slowly panned their heads as the spotlight was shone on the two actors, and a pleasing reaction of acknowledgement passed around the theater.  

Although they are only showing for two weekends, make sure to find time to see these two wonderful operas, as the people involved have unquestionably given it their all, and the performances were amazing across the board. 

Free admission is granted to students who present their I.D. cards and doors open 30 minutes prior to curtain. 

For more information on this show as well as other Water Works performances, visit this link: sonoma.edu/waterworks/performances/index.html.