We went back to the box office and kicked up a fuss and the very wonderful House Manager, Linda Royval, was kind enough to give us three seats together in the wheelchair seating, just above the grand circle. From where we sat, we had an excellent view and the acoustics were good (not great, but good). Compared to the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House, the California Theater is downright intimate, cozy even.
Entering the newly-renovated space from the South First Street side, the lobby is dark - lit from high above with gold and red lamps that gave the place a distinctly Agatha Christie ambiance. With so many well-dressed old people and lighting like that, I expected to trip over a dead body before the curtain went up. From the Market Street side, though, it was all modernity and couples in black turtlenecks and ergonomically correct backpacks. The auditorium struck a nice balance. Not quite as rococo as the War Memorial Opera house, but not exactly an airport hangar either.
You could certainly tell that the place had been newly renovated, as years of opera matron butts had yet to compact the still-plush seats. Just mine, and one other (opening night was Saturday night). And the 1,100-seat California has only a third the capacity of the 3,146-seat War Memorial Opera House, meaning that it's pared down to mostly just the good seats (and at a fraction of the price). We could tell just by comparing what we could see of the cast with the photos in the programme which of the available singers was playing Basilio or Count Almaviva.
The singing of this particular company was good. The Suzanna wasn't too shrill, the Cherubino soprano without sounding (or looking) too feminine for credibility. Both tenors did themselves undistinguished credit. The sad thing, though, was the stage direction. I couldn't find anything on Lorna Haywood, but I can only assume that her credits include years and years of preschool puppet theater. There really isn't any other explanation for stage direction that can be summed up in its entirety with "sing to other person on stage, then go down to one corner of the stage and sing to the audience for a while, then sing to the other person on stage for a while, then leave." I've seen more convincing stage direction being given to Barbie dolls by five year olds.
The programme talked about the new San Jose Opera's commitment to fiscal responsibility, and one could immediately see that the first cut made was to set design. The sets were lovely and functional, but the props were nonexistent. The actors had nothing to do onstage but sing to each other and the audience. They paraded around in a manner that made no sense whatsoever unless you understood that they had to fill up three more measures of music before the dancers came in. We'll work on that for next season, right?
But really, when it comes down to it, the entire reason I go to the opera is to see other opera goers. It's always fun to see other people dressed up nicely and out on the town. And the ways in which other people's notions of "dressed nicely" and mine differ are always worthwhile. There are the old ladies who look as though their wigs were fired at their heads from a cannon. There are the people who look as though they were on their way to the park or out for a carton of milk and they saw this opera thing going on and decided to drop in. They are normally wearing shorts and fanny packs. There are people whose wardrobes I would love to plunder, if only they were my size.
I love the opera, and I can hardly wait for the next production. We'll see if they've got the kinks ironed out.