Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Rocky and the Callbacks

The Rocky Horror Show
San Jose Stage Company
October 5, 2019

Allison F. Rich as Magenta, Parker Harris as Brad,
Ashley Garlick as Janet, and Sean Okuniewicz.
"The callbacks," the practice of inserting one's own lines into the dialogue, has long been a part of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, but not necessarily of the stage version that started it all. The Stage Company makes no bones about where it stands; they invited audience members to speak up, sold "participation packets" with the familiar RH props (playing cards, spray bottles), and one of the wittier hecklers turned out to be their artistic director, Randall King.

At times the back-and-forth is a little chaotic (this is not a rehearsed element), but it produced a number of superb moments. When Brad surmised that the castle must be one of those places where sicko millionaires hide out, an instigator at audience left shouted "Mar-a-Lago!" But the most fun came with the Narrator, Edward Hightower, who had a brief Harvey Korman moment when one of the comments struck his funny bone, and made comic battle with his hecklers the rest of the night, aiming his lines and gestures for effect.

Allison F. Rich as Magenta,
Matthew Kropschot as Rocky and
Jill E. Miller as Columbia
Beneath all this unfettered democracy, Stage has itself a freakishly awesome production. There's a certain quality - call it "presence" or the "it" factor - that an aficionado might find once or twice a season. You know it when you can't keep your eyes off a particular performer. This single show has three. One is (no surprise) Allison F. Rich, whose commitment to Magenta is absolute, and intense. Another is Sean Okuniewicz, whose Riff Raff is a 100 percent freakball liable to go off at any moment (he also has a true rock star voice suitable to the Time Warp). The third is Keith Pinto, who moves with a fascinating, precise elegance, giving an undercover fussiness to Frank 'N' Furter.

Keith Pinto as Frank 'N' Furter
Over all, I keep coming back to that word "commitment." The cast offers no half gestures, they are all there, all the time. Matthew Kropschot could easily cruise on his ridonkulous physique, but he's also quite loose and funny, and a good singer. The phantom ushers offer a tight, athletic dance team. Performing Eddie's "Hot Patootie," Will Springhorn, Jr. whipped out a sax and played the solo himself. It's also nice to hear a Janet Weiss with real pipes (Ashley Garlick), and Parker Harris gives Brad a likeable Niles Crane nerdiness that turns to fetish on a dime. The only flaw I even noticed was a little tightness from Jill E. Miller on Columbia's Time Warp solo, but her later drug trip is an excellent little monodrama. It's obvious that director Allison Rich and choreographer Tracy Freeman-Shaw got the absolute most out of their players.

Allison F. Rich as The Usherette
The production creates a nice balance between providing all the touchstones of the 1975 film without being a slave to them. Ashley Garlick's costume design, for one, made some amusing innovations. When Riff-Raff entered the final scene in his white platform boots, our friend at audience left remarked "Didn't you wear those in Mamma Mia?" Which was my exact thought.

Through Nov. 3, The Stage, 490 S. First Street, San Jose. 408/283-7142, thestage.org

Michael J. Vaughn is the author of 22 novels and two plays, Darcy Lamont and Cafe Phryque, which are available for free downloads at amazon.com.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Amateur Opera Critic Meets Diva


Reprinted from Manybooks.net, story by Naomi Bolton. Free download of Operaville the novel at Amazon.com.

Michael J. Vaughn is the author of 22 novels, including Mascot and The Popcorn Girl. He is a thirty-year opera critic, a jazz singer, and plays drums for the San Francisco rock band Exit Wonderland. For Gabriella's Voice, the predecessor to Operaville, Vaughn was awarded a $3,000 fellowship from Arts Council Silicon Valley. As our Author of the Day, he tells us about his latest opera novel, Operaville.

Please give us a short introduction to what Operaville is about.

Mickey Siskel is a survivor of a traumatic divorce who sort of klutzes into opera as a form of therapy. He discovers a great ruse for getting free tickets - just start a blog and figure out how to write reviews. He gets unexpectedly good and attracts the attention of a world-class diva, Maddalena Hart, who meets with him and finds herself smitten. It's a bit like "Notting Hill" (which I saw AFTER I wrote Operaville, please note).

What inspired you to write about an amateur opera critic who finds himself in an affair with an opera diva?

I am a long-time opera critic, but after I quit my newspaper jobs to focus on fiction I still wanted the free tickets so I could continue seeing opera. So I started a blog called Operaville. But somewhere along the line, I thought, Hmmm, interesting device for a novel. As for the diva, I've had the good fortune of befriending quite a few opera singers and I find them to be delightful, fascinating creatures.

Your first opera novel, Gabriella's Voice earned you a fellowship from the Arts Council in Silicon Valley. Tell us more about this.

That award was very important; it gave me a sense of legitimacy early in my career. Authors really need those! Gabriella actually makes an appearance in Operaville.

You are an opera critic yourself. How much of your own experiences have you incorporated in the book?

Lots! I have learned so much through my reviews. When it comes to opera, it's easy to fall into stupid cliches (the fat lady with the horns). The real world of opera is so much more interesting. And also I'm able to write about the music in a deep, thoughtful way, and hopefully translate these concepts and descriptions to the lay reader.

Tell us more about Maddalena. What makes her so exceptional?

She's at the very top of her game and yet she never stops learning. Some of this is based on Renee Fleming. She wrote a book on singing in which she said she never stops re-evaluating a role, even if she's performed it a hundred times. I think this endless seeking is indicative of the most successful people in all fields. Also, Maddie is very sexual, which is the thing that perhaps people don't know about opera singers. I always want to say, But look at all these shenanigans they get to onstage? Don't you think that has an effect?

Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?

I came from a musical Disneyland called Peterson High School in Sunnyvale. We had 120 guys in the men's glee and used to tour other schools, encouraging boys to sing. From there I went to San Jose State, where the choir performed with the local professional orchestra. My own singing continues with jazz (Sinatra a specialty) and rock; I'm a drummer/vocalist with a classic rock cover band, ECRB. Not surprisingly, music plays an active part in most of my novels.
mvaughn

Was there a single defining moment or event where you suddenly thought, 'Now I'm an Author,' as in—this is now my career?"

I've always been self-powered, but there was one moment. I graduated with a journalism degree and immediately realized, Who am I kidding? And got a day job so I could start writing novels.

How do you force yourself to finish what you're doing before starting the next project when the new idea is nagging at you?

I have actually begun a new project while finishing an old one. It didn't seem to bother me. Though I usually do enjoy a month or two of "brewing" between books.

Among the wealth of characters in Operaville, who was the most difficult to create?

The ex-wife kept shifting on me! I really wanted to indulge in an old-fashioned nasty villain, but she insisted on being human and showing all these redeeming insecurities. In the end, she might be the most intriguing character in the book. I always preach a certain lack of control to beginning writers, because you never know when a character will raise her hand and say, I think you're wrong about me.

If you could choose one character from your book to spend a day with, who would it be? And where would you take them?

Oh, Maddalena, naturally. I'd like to take that 4th of July cruise into Seattle for the fireworks show. What fun!

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do to combat it?

I really don't because I don't push myself to write when I'm not feeling inspired, but I do keep a sketchbook around for doodling. I actually wrote a story about this for Writer's Digest; visual play has a way of re-energizing those parts of the brain used for writing. And sometimes I get a page or two when I wasn't expecting it.

What are you working on right now?

I did a rather unusual thing to start my new novel. Without any preliminary theme, I simply put a character in a certain place and wrote my way out. I ended up with a speculative novel about post-flood California (a climate-change Handmaid's Tale), which is unlike anything I've ever done. So perhaps this is a good way to push one's boundaries and find out what your subconscious is up to.

Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?

I have an author page on Amazon (22 titles), and a page on Facebook. Also, my blog is at operaville.blogspot.com, and I continue to write opera reviews.

Extra notes:

The sex scenes In Operaville are pretty candid. Prudes, please note. Inspired by authors like Kundera and Tom Robbins, I tend to write about sex as if it were a normal part of life. Although you won't find godawful erotica tropes like "throbbing" and "perky."
The opera descriptions get pretty technical sometimes but never fear. They're not essential to the plot.
The cover photo is a selfie! Taken by a soprano friend, Isabella Ivy, before going onstage in a Mozart opera. I'm so grateful that she let me use this extraordinary shot.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Alviso


Alviso

The Chicanos from the tidelands had no school so they were bused to ours. Like children everywhere, we latched onto their differences like hungry leeches.

The shirts buttoned to the collar. The boxy work pants, the constant black T’s, a strange affection for gothic lettering and vintage cars.

We stood in the quad in our bell bottoms, puka shells and disco shirts and asked, What could they be thinking?

We learned the appropriate slurs, which now seem pathetic: greasers (because they used product in their hair), Spics (because they spoke Spanish), beaners (because they ate beans?).

One day, my little brother’s gang – let’s call them The Squirrely Bunch – were performing their best Cheeches and Chongs, tossing around words like cholo, wetback, low-rider, puta in those odd Mexican rhythms, the words falling like dominos to the obligatory eh? (unintentionally paying tribute to the things they professed to hate). My mom finally had enough.

“That’s it! You boys get in the car right now. We’re going for a ride.”

I can only imagine them, huddled in the back seat, muttering. Omigod, Vaughn, your mom finally snapped. She’s gonna kill us and leave our bodies in the swamp.

My mother, one of the more navigationally challenged of women, puzzled her way through unfamiliar back roads until she arrived in Alviso, a former railroad town and fishing port where Mexican families found shelter.

I don’t have direct quotes, but I’m guessing she said, These are real boys with real homes and friends and families who love them, and they are not to be made into cartoons by you. Also, look how far they have to travel to go to a white school where mean boys make fun of them.

I imagine, too, the faces of the locals as a blonde, blue-eyed housewife cruised through town in a station wagon, boys peering out the window like caged animals. It must have looked like the world’s most pathetic tour bus.

Decades later, I sit at a fire pit in Malibu, hearing this story for the second time. My brother has never forgotten that trip, has lived his life accordingly, and keeps this story in his back pocket as a reminder of his mother’s huge, loving and slightly lunatic heart.

As a story always brings more stories, I flash on the day when I turned from my middle-school locker to be punched in the face by a lean, ferocious-looking Chicano.

More shocked than hurt, I stumbled down the hall, holding my nose and shouting, “Why did you do that!?” He and his friends continued to follow me, and I was afraid they were looking for more. They scattered, finally, as I made my way to the nurse’s office.

(Where were the adults? Nowhere. Adults in the seventies were useless.)

As the year went on, I tried to hate those Spics, those beaners, those goddamn greasers. After all, I had reason. But my attempts were always cut off by my mother’s voice, a permanent installation in my head. Now Michael. Think of how that other person feels. (I sometimes envy people who freely hate. Their worldview must be much less complicated.)

Eventually, I managed to place myself in that kid’s shoes, and the equation came clear. He was the alpha male, his friends the Alviso equivalent of The Squirrely Bunch, and it was his job to find the biggest, whitest kid in the place and take him down.

Because that’s what you do on your first day in prison.
Michael J. Vaughn is the author of 21 novels, most recently The Girl in the Flaming Dress.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Harold in Motion


Harold in Motion

Sports Dad

I remember my dad calling me back to his den. These were always significant occasions, and I ran a quick scan to figure out if I might be in trouble. I sat next to his tan office chair and looked at the squadron plaques ringing the walls, with military names like ComPatWingsPac Patrol 131. He folded his hands and leaned toward me.
            “Mike, I just wanted to check in with you on something. As you might have noticed, I’m coaching your brother’s team this season, and I wanted to make sure you were all right with that. The thing is, you kinda got ahead of me. I’m not really qualified to coach at your level.”
            Of course I was okay. I loved baseball. I was like a duck in water, and I really hadn’t thought much about my dad’s coaching pursuits. (In fact, I noticed that coaches’ kids got perhaps a little too much scrutiny.) But I was touched that my dad cared enough to ask.
            Especially in hindsight, I really appreciated my dad’s approach when he came to watch my games. As I neared the plate, he would give two handclaps and a brief encouragement: “All right, Mike! Let’s go.” Just enough to let me know he was there, but not so much that it messed with my focus. To this day, I hear parents trying to coach from the stands and I have to quash the desire to tell them to shut the hell up.
            Another aspect of my dad’s self-restraint was in the choice of sport. My dad was the captain of his high school football team, and when his eldest son shot up to six feet by freshman year, he must have had some hopes. But my stocky build almost guaranteed I would be on the line, knocking heads, and it just didn’t appeal to me.
            That said, I inherited my dad’s toughness in other ways, and his high threshold for pain. Third base and goalkeeping gave me plentiful opportunities to go airborne, and I wasn’t really happy unless I finished a game with some blood on my uniform. This trait showed itself in our other athletes, as well. Sister Carla would proudly display the raspberries she got sliding in shorts, and I have personally witnessed brother Larry performing flying somersaults in pursuit of a soccer ball.
            But my dad’s toughness was at a whole different level. When he finally went in for surgery on his long-injured rotator cuff, the doctor spent hours cleaning things up. Afterward he asked him, “How were you even walking around without screaming in pain?”
            It’s a long-standing joke that men talk about sports so they don’t have to talk about feelings. But the adjustment from son to fellow adult can be awkward, and I always appreciated the place of sports as a kind of conversational lubricant. During the various heydays of the Giants, ‘49ers and Warriors, we would use playoff games as male tribal events. We celebrated touchdowns, home runs and buzzer-beaters with silly high-fives as Dad’s monster poodle, Java, jumped and barked at all the excitement.
            My dad also had a reputation as an amateur football broadcaster. He would watch a play and say something like, “Well the tight end wasn’t sealing the three-four gap. Kaepernick should have optioned it outside.” Three seconds later, the guy on the TV would say, “Johnny, the tight end wasn’t sealing the three-four gap, so clearly Kaepernick should have taken that one outside.”
            The spectating occasion I most remember, though, came with the 2015 Super Bowl between the Patriots and Seahawks. Neither of us really cared about either team, but the ending was so stunning – a Patriots interception at the one-yard line – that I fell to the ground, slapping the carpet and exclaiming, “I can’t believe that just happened!” My dad was highly amused, watching his 50-year-old son roll around the floor like a teenager.



The Secret Musician

I recall a road trip in 1971. Big sis and I were headed to a family reunion in Indiana courtesy of Dad’s rotary-engine Mazda (Larry and Linda were flying there with Mom.) The hits of the day were Miss American Pie, Maggie May, Lean on Me and Sweet Caroline. Not that we were hearing any of these, because Dad was hunting down the oldies stations: Montavani, the Ray Coniff Singers, Englebert Humperdinck. We didn’t complain, because the man was in his element, driving across America, checking his maps and puffing on a cigar, the smoke escaping out the little triangular window vent.
            When he wasn’t smoking, he was whistling along with the radio. The Shadow of Your Smile. Moon River. I Left My Heart in San Francisco. My dad had a very pleasant whistle, rich and resonant. But he did things that I couldn’t quite figure out. He would craft little phrases in between the lines of the song. Then he’d whistle things that traveled over and under the melody. It reminded me of a movie scene I saw with Bing Crosby.
            Years later, after I came to understand more about music, I realized that my dad was riffing, and that this was not a common talent. Later, I learned that he played cornet in high school, and was a fan of trumpeters: Louis Armstrong, Al Hirt, Herb Alpert. By sheer coincidence, his first and middle names made up the name of another famous trumpeter: Harry James.
            A few years later, as I began my life-long love affair with singing, I sort of wondered where I got my voice. (Mom was enthusiastic but not great.) One Christmas Eve, I stood next to Dad in church as we sang hymns. He was trying to blend in, but the talent was unmistakeable: a rich, resonant baritone.
            Dad was a huge Elvis fan but he had other favorites as well. One day, Ray Charles appeared on our television and Dad said, “Mike! Listen to this. This guy is the coolest man on the planet!” My military father was suddenly talking like a hipster.
            I never completely understood why a man with such apparent gifts didn’t pursue music more – although I suppose having four kids might have played a part. He also seemed pretty happy to be an aficionado, and he enjoyed playing with his reel-to-reel tape deck. He also seemed to enjoy the pursuits of his musical son, as I went from choir singer to opera critic to rock drummer. One night, I got the chance to pay him back big-time.
            I had attained a job as publicist for an arts center, and our gala performer was one of those trumpeters, Al Hirt. I checked with Al’s tour manager, and then, at intermission, I led my parents back to his dressing room.
            Al couldn’t have been more perfect, sitting behind a desk in a ruffled tuxedo, smoking a big ol’ stogie, looking a little like Orson Welles. My dad was more nervous than I’d ever seen him. He told Al how much he admired his music, and then handed him an old album for an autograph.
            “Wow!” said Al. “I haven’t seen this one in years!”
            If you ever get the chance to turn your fiftysomething father into a wide-eyed youngster, don’t pass it up. It’s priceless.



The Example

As most good parents know, setting an example is so much more important than speaking the words. And this doesn’t just happen early in life. As I entered college, I decided to study journalism, but I was actually considering something riskier. At the same time, my father was retiring from the Navy. His weakening eyesight had ruled out flight time, and he decided it was time to go.
            Following the path of his work as Moffett Field’s safety officer, he got a job as a safety manager at a major corporation. Within six months, things weren’t going so well. He was being asked to “work around” safety regulations, rules that in the Navy were considered ironclad. Also, he wasn’t crazy about sitting at a desk
            So, he got a job driving buses for Santa Clara County Transit. My dad loved driving, had even toyed with the idea of being a cross-country trucker. The transit union guaranteed good pay and benefits. And, as it turned out, Dad was also good at customer relations. At dinner, he would regale us with stories of his devoted regulars, as well as the dicey characters who rode the infamous 22 line. He joked that bus-driving was much more hazardous than flying, since the air didn’t have so much traffic.
            Dad’s new job was also good for me. Dependents got free rides, and I rode that same 22 line to San Jose State. I attribute some of my good grades to all the reading time afforded by those trips, and every once in a while the door would open to reveal my very own father at the wheel.
            But the stronger benefit was the example, and its inherent message: do what you love in life. When I got my journalism degree, I started freelancing for a local weekly, but I also began my first novel. My dad expressed due concern about my finances, but along about novel number five I guess he decided I was serious about this. My dad was not much of a fiction reader, but he supported my ambition nonetheless.
            Years later, we boarded Dad’s bus on his final shift with a birthday cake and balloons. Soon after, he bought an RV (which he described as “much smaller” than his usual rides) and drove his second wife, Sharon, across Canada and the United States. It was, quite literally, a busman’s holiday.



No Pack of Lifesavers for this Father-Son Talk

From the Sunnyvale Sun, June 12, 1996

I was sitting in front of the wood stove reading the paper one evening when my father came by and set a bright yellow box next to me on the end table. Condoms. An unopened box of 12 – ribbed, with spermicidal lubricant (Dad’s a devotee of Consumer Reports and buys only the best).
            “These are left over from my brief dating period,” he said. “I thought you might be able to use them.”
            My father has an uncanny ability to endow small actions with volumes of meaning, and this was one of them.
            I’ll start from the beginning.
            When my mother died two and a half years ago, my relationship with my father was destined to go through large changes. In hindsight, it seems that my mother served as an unwitting screen between us.
            Mom and I were both extroverted, verbal types, given to gossip, amateur psychology and hours-long philosophy sessions; we were both obsessed with the nature of human character and human characters. In a typical visit to the house, I would share a couple of sentences with my father – a question about work, a reference to some Bay Area sports team – and then adjourn to the kitchen table for a marathon chat session with Mom. Dad, given an understated, more introspective nature by genes, a tough childhood and 20-odd years in the Navy, would retreat to the den with his newspaper.
            When my mother passed away, my relationship with my father would necessarily become more direct. But that was only the beginning. After being accepted at three different artists’ colonies, I realized that keeping up rent on my apartment at the same time would be an impossibility and asked my father if I could move back into the house. And so, we were housemates.
            And what’s more, we were single guys. As the time of mourning wore on and my dad thought about the idea of dating again (something my mother had insisted on, instructing us to “get his butt out of the house” if he began to mope), I found myself in the unsettling position of counselor. The sum of my dating experience was, after all, approximately four times that of my father, and he was returning to a radically changed landscape. Young men in the ‘50s didn’t have to worry about dying if they slept with the wrong partner.
            The strangeness of the situation was intensified when Dad went on his first date with the widow around the corner – whose daugher had been my sixth-grade crush.
            I’m not saying I sat around giving my dad great advice like some Babe Ruth Westheimer – I’m too smart to say I really understand much about this thing we call love – but one time I did hit the bullseye. On the eve of my departure for my first artist’s residency in Wyoming, he had begun dating an old family friend – high on my mother’s list of recommended successors – and he found himself surprised and alarmed at the strength of his feelings for her.
            “There are no rules to this game, Dad,” I said. “I’ve been looking for the right woman for nearly two decades. You may have found her after two months.”
            When I came back from Wyoming six weeks later, before I could even pull in all my bags, my dad came up to me with a boyish grin and a different kind of energy about him. “I’m getting married,” he said. Six months later, I sang at my father’s wedding.
            It may have been something my mother said or something I thought up myself (the two are not very different), but you don’t have to worry about life bringing you changes. It will, and in very unexpected ways. The best you can hope to do with these curveballs is go with the pitch, try to hit a single the other way or at least move up the runner.
            In the last few years, my family – new and old – has been facing curveballs, sliders and knucklers, and in a very twisted ‘90s sort of way, they all seem to be summed up within this bright yellow box of condoms. These little rings of latex represent health, safety and love, after all, and I couldn’t think of a better gift a father could bring to a son.







Monday, June 10, 2019

Drunk on Amy

Drunk on Amy

Aging bachelor goes into the
world, Amy-blessed,
bits of her roiled up
in his halo

low-level conjures at the
places she has touched,
valence electrons pushed
before him like ranch hands,
cleaning up the dogies

He wonders at the
nonchalance of the
greater world,
was expecting to be
arrested or made a god

Can you not see the
light shooting from my pores?

He did not actually have to
leave her but his ruts are
housepets and perhaps he
needs the distance to
see what kind of
painting his life has become

A cool blue stew to the
northwest, shimmering golds and
yellows, purple and
pink birthing magenta,
black for definition

A few free minutes to
drink Ethiopian coffee and
write another poem for he is
Amy-loved and can't
quite believe it

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Transubstantiation

Transubstantiation

Zoom in and the
margins disappear
skin devours skin
eyes turn to oceans

Amy in a half moon
crushing iceplant in the
sand and wine

I am captured and free,
let out to romp the borders,
exothermic

She smiles and says,
I could eat you up.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Opera San Jose Paints a Dark Butterfly






Maria Natale as Butterfly. All photos by Pat Kirk.
Opera San Jose
Puccini's Madama Butterfly
April 26, 2019

One of the more popular misconceptions about opera is that you can separate “acting” and “singing” into discrete categories. In truth, the two operate in a constant dance, and if you’re not singing your acting and acting your singing, you’re not doing the job. Opera San Jose’s dark, assertive Madama Butterfly demonstrates how even a musical matter like vocal timbre can determine how a stage director (Brad Dalton) delivers his vision.

The obvious place to start is the happy (Act I) couple, Pinkerton and Cio-Cio-San. Dane Suarez possesses a classic lyric tenor, but one vested with just a bit of an edge – not all the way to spinto, but one capable of a little force. This serves to bring out Pinkerton’s early knuckleheadedness about cultural differences, his young man’s focus on his own needs. He’s a bit of a firecracker.

Renee Rapier as Suzuki, Maria Natale as Butterfly.
Our Cio-Cio-San, Maria Natale, takes this further. She, too, is a classic lyric, but with a fantastic capacity for ferocity at the top end. This really brings out Butterfly’s sometimes-overlooked strength, her determination in Act 2 to fight off the doubters and wait for her American husband to return. Her “Un bel di” seems to rise out of nowhere, as it should, and her later high pianissimos are delicious.

This timbral match makes the wedding-night duets into soaring tonal tangos. The sense of power and assertiveness is reinforced by Trevor Neal, who uses his rich baritone and natural presence to play a fiery Sharpless, who makes no bones about how much Pinkerton is ticking him off. Brad Dalton does a masterful job of taking the players he’s given and directing to their strengths.

Renee Rapier uses the depth of her mezzo to plumb the many lines of foreboding about her mistress, and to underscore the luscious unison passages with Butterfly in the blossom-strewing celebration of Pinkerton’s return. Mason Gates delivers an impish Goro, and Philip Skinner is truly imposing as The Bonze.

Trevor Neal as Sharpless, Mason Gates as Goro.
Adding to the sense of darkness is Kent Dorsey’s set, a spare black stage deploying various flying screens and backdrops. The vigil scene is particularly lovely, Butterfly, Suzuki and Sorrow gazing into the pinhole lights of a night sky. Atom Young did a splendid job with Sorrow, handling his many small assignments with ease (and it confounds me how anyone can get a child to stand still for that long).

Joseph Marcheso and his orchestra demonstrated an excellent sense of dynamism, from the playful lilt of the letter-reading scene to the grand sweeps of the love duet and the heart-stopping timpani-driven death scene. The production shows a distinct attention to traditional Japanese movement, guided by choreographer Hanayagi Jumasuga. Butterfly’s descent to the stage at Pinkerton’s return contains a different emotional gesture for each step. The death scene is a little bloodless. I understand not messing up valuable kimonos, but perhaps even a little stage blood on Pinkerton’s hands would have helped.

Maria Natale as Butterfly, Dane Suarez as
Pinkerton, Ezra Kramer as Sorrow.
I offer a special note of gratitude to OSJ’s general director Larry Hancock on the eve of his retirement. Going back to 1985 (!), Larry added an enormous amount to my opera education through intermission chats and official interviews, and no one has worked more tirelessly in service to an arts company. I have especially enjoyed the way he has led OSJ into recent ambitious ventures like this season’s production of Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick. Enjoy your rest, Larry – you’ve earned it.

Opera San Jose’s 2019-20 season includes Strauss’s Die Fledermaus (Sept. 14-29), Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel (Nov. 16-Dec. 1), Verdi’s Il trovatore (Feb. 15-March 1) and Mozart’s The Magic Flute (April 18-May 3). 408/437-4450, operasj.org.

Michael J. Vaughn is the author of 21 novels, including the opera novels Gabriella’s Voice and Operaville.