Opera San Jose presents……

When love is not madness, it is not love.
Pedro Calderon de la Barca

Opera San Jose’s production of TOSCA will not disappoint on any level thanks in part to Sandra Bengochea’s inspired stage direction. It is all there: the voices, the wonderfully elegant, sets, the costuming that adds without detracting and that magnificent score that has spoken volumes to us all for over two centuries. “TOSCA presents a very universal subject, which we as appreciators of art see in all great operas,” says Bengochea. “It portrays the huge conflict between revolutionary and traditional worldviews.”

Indeed, every opera lover has seen hundreds of “Tosca’s” but I promise not one of them will have seen a more moving, beautifully rendered production of this opera than that created by Opera San Jose. Their TOSCA is a perfect blend of virtuosity, opulence and pathos that this moving story gives to us all.

The story of what we will do for love, the music that fills your heart and brings tears to your eyes…all are timeless. The setting is Rome in June, 1800 just as Napoleon is defeated and the powers that rule have been overturned. TOSCA is the tale of love meeting the ultimate test. It must be sung and acted with extraordinary passion to convince us that what we see and hear on that stage is real. Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste sings Tosca with heart. Her voice is thrilling and its passion real. Her lover, Mario Cavaradossi is sung by Alexander Boyers with a Spinto tenor voice in the tradition of Domingo and Gigli. Conductor David Rohrbaugh is Opera San Jose’s founding Music Director and does a masterful job of never overpowering the voices and yet letting the music add the atmosphere and the tension of this plot of lust, intrigue and murder done for love. “ TOSCA is a passionate melodrama, romantic, and powerful. ,” he says. “The exceptionally melodic areas are some of the most stunning and beguiling in operatic literature…Throughout the opera, every emotion is heightened.”

TOSCA has become one of the most popular of all operas since its premier in 1900, and this production in San Jose will make you understand why it is considered such an operatic treasure. The music is divine (and that is an understatement). Opera San Jose has made it easier to remember those melodic arias you are still humming as the curtain descends because their titles are listed in order under each act in the program. When Cavaradossi and Tosca sing Qual’occhio, your heart melts and you wish someone loved you like that. When Tosca murders Scarpia and sings Vissi d’arte, you think “Hooray!!! Tosca!!”. But when you get home, you wonder “What was that marvelous melody I loved so much in the first act?” You open your program and there it is.

The supertitles in this performance are pure poetry. They are written with an eye to the mood and the meaning of the libretto. Yet, they are unobtrusive, brief and clear. We want to understand the story of course, but really we are there for that music. “The spectacular California Theatre is the ideal venue for this wonderful production,” says Rohrbaugh. “The proximity of the audience makes them feel as a witness of the story – and what a story to witness!”

Irene Dalis is to be praised to the skies for producing one masterpiece after another, showcasing young talented and professional singers soon to become the international stars of tomorrow. Her standards are high and she never compromises quality in every opera on her stage. TOSCA is a production not to be missed; it is unforgettable.

There are two casts that alternate in this production. Previous experience assures me that the audience will not be disappointed with either.

TOSCA continues through November 28 at The California Theatre, 345 South First Street, San Jose. Tickets $51-$101: 409 437 4450; www.operasj.org.

The Pear Avenue Theater presents
Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.
Albert Einstein

The Pear Avenue Theatre is worth going to for the venue itself. IT is small and intimate and makes the theater you are seeing seem real. The actors are a stone’s throw away from you and are living their lives before your eyes. However, their
production of Anthony Clarvoe’s CTRL+ALT+DELETE tries to make some very good points about the world of investment and high finance, but it doesn’t do it very well. The fault is certainly not the actors’ nor is it the direction of this interesting attempt to prove to us that all the money we think we are making and all the projects we invest in are nothing but figments of our imagination. Director Vickie Rozell and her scenic designer Michael Palumbo make the most of the tiny stage and the rapid change of scenes in the script and although the actors are a bit intense for this reviewer’s taste, they stay in character and do their best to convince us that they are saying something that everyone doesn’t know already.

The action takes place in 1999, before the GPS, The Blackberry and the IPod. Eddie Fisker (Kevin Hsieh, a veteran Pear Avenue player) has managed to buy all the rights to an all-in-one hand-held communication device that he calls the gizmo. He presents his idea to Gus Belmont (Ray Renati) financial guru and moneymaker who picks it up and decides to run with it. Belmont is revered by the financial world; one word from him can send stocks plunging. He has just suffered a near-death experience and he is protected and loved by Marie (Lizzie O’Hara) whose real identity is part of the culmination of the plot. O’Hara steals the show for this reviewer. She is in tune with every character and every action, yet she never up-stages anyone. She is so real it is hard to realize that she is playing a part. Everyone lucky enough to see her should be grateful that she accepted this role even though she says the thought of it scared her.

The play is billed as a glimpse into the “hot-wired world of high pressure scheming and manipulation that accompanies a breakthrough in technology. The action takes us through the manipulations of the stock market, the selling of an idea that has yet to become real and the inevitable crash of confidence when the bubble bursts. They actors try to instill suspense and surprise into the script but it just isn’t there. The dialogue is filled with clever wordplay, but it doesn’t really say much. We all know about the vicissitudes of a stock market that makes hopes real by convincing investors of their potential. We leave the theater after two hours of watching all hysterics and histrionics of the cast saying, “So what?”

However, this production is saved by its pace and by its very loyal audience. The Pear Avenue Theatre is a tiny space where the audience is literally inches away from the action on stage. They have developed a loyal following and their season has great substance. Their choice of plays cover a wide spectrum of current topics. The 2010-11 selection is labeled “Americana”. Next up is No Good Deed by Paul Braverman, set in East Boston about an Irish gang war, and after that Arthur Miller’s never-fail-to-please classic Death of a Salesman. It is an ambitious season played to loyal and interested fans and one for all theater goers to watch.

CTRL+ALT+DELETE continues Thursdays-Saturdays@ 8pm, Sundays @ 2pm through November 21 at Pear Avenue Theatre, 1220 Pear Avenue, Mountain View. Tickets ($15-$30) 650 254 1148 or www.thepear.org.