March 2015,

It was remarkable enough that an opera company has popped up in Alameda (pop.70,000), a city not known for generating classical musical activity. How much more surprising when the new Island City Opera made a hit of its unusual double bill, Puccini’s tragedy “Il Tabarro” and Rossini’s farce “Il Signor Bruschino.” It happened last Friday and Sunday

The gem of a venue was another surprise, a large box of a room with a dome in its roof in the Elks’ Club, next door to the Alameda City Hall (talk about centrally located!). The acoustics were so good, for the first time in my operatic life, I could hear every word of the Italian (it helped that the small orchestra was over on the side, and yes, there were Supertitles).

The productions were satisfactorily tucked up on the small stage. Puccini’s drama of the bargemaster Michele (warm-voiced baritone Michael Rogers), discovering the lover of his wife Georgetta bright tone, keen focused soprano, Eileen Meredith, and strangling him (C. Michael Belle, a large man with fine, driven tenor) played out intensely. Alix Jerinic, mezzo soprano, did an excellent turn as the rag-picker La Frugola.

All that most folk know of “Il Signor Bruschino” is the often-played overture, the one with six tappings of the bows as a recurrent motif. (the overture gave the few strings in conductor Shahani’s little band more trouble than the later music). The piece is a howler about little Florville (tenor Darron Flagg) outwitting Gaudenzio Strappapuppole, the father of Sophia to win the striking bombshell, Kelly Britt, by pretending to be the son of Bruschino, driven half crazy by the masquerade. Which inspired Bojan Knezevic in a stellar performance as Bruschino, to make a run at the kingdom of the late great baritone buffissimo Renato Capecchi. Britt, in figure-hugging short dress, was the other constellation, knocking the spots off the coloratura aria, “Ah! donate il caro sposo.” Branislav Radakovic, in handsome, generous baritone, was the comical hotel keeper, and Kiril Havezov, the Gaudenzio, lively and comedic, in a buffo bass, but with pitch problems.

One other thing and a first. A maid who kept popping in to clear up the curlicues of the plot, singing as well as speaking in English, turned out to be the very ingenious stage director Erin Neff, and when did a stage director ever play on the opera stage?  It will happen again Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

– Robert Commanday