Opera Parallèle Mounts a Vivid, Multifold “Enfants”

Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle

In this mesmerizing 90-minute display, Glass’ richly evocative score — led with supple grace by conductor Nicole Paiement — interacted with the stage magic of director Brian Staufenbiel and choreographer Amy Seiwert to create a work that was at once elusive and sharp-edged. The interaction between fuzziness (who are these people? what the hell are they doing?) and high-definition crispness (they’re doing this, right here, right now) proved endlessly rewarding.

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Opera Parallèle’s Les Enfants Terribles Triumphs

Lisa Hirsch, San Francisco Classical Voice

Opera Parallèle’s production, directed by Brian Staufenbiel and choreographed by Amy Seiwert, is austerely beautiful, with not much more than a pair of wheeled beds on stage. It hardly needs more than this, because of the doubling and tripling of Paul and Lise, who are each represented by a singer and a dancer … and by the singers’ appearance in filmed sequences projected on screens above and to the sides of the stage. These sequences, shot from odd, unsettling angles in washed-out black and white, flesh out the dramatic action and reinforce its emotional content.

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Les Enfants Terribles Aren’t So Terrible After All

Lois Silverstein, OperaWire

Brian Staufenbiel is Director par excellence. He fuses not only these many narrative and dramatic elements but the magical projections created by David Murakami. These include shots of Cocteau’s original line drawings, and the unique film shot by Staufenbiel, Murakami, Saskia Lee, and Joe Bourekas, in the San Francisco home of Betty Wallerstein. Inset into Sean Riley’s set and lit by Matthew Antaky, these intensify the drama as Glass’s score uncoils from the opening motif, intense, repetitive, and flexible. Conducted by Nicole Paiement, and performed by pianists Kevin Korth, Keisuke Nakagoshi, and Eva-Maria Zimmerman, the synthesis builds as the sound stretches and spills across the three pianos, one picking up where the other ends. It is layered enmeshment, ultimately, and it casts a spell. Not simply the evolving repetition throughout, but the echoes of the Bach Concerto for Four Harpsichords and Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four Violins, which Cocteau himself used in the 1950 film version, brings us up right against the Cocteau works and the other artists alluded to in this unique moment. Doubling, mirroring, and shadowing work on multiple levels, creating a kind of chamber-mosaic, aptly accenting the opera’s hermetic nature. Under Paiement’s skillful baton, we are thrust forward as we remain immersed. We do not lose focus or containment; only complete resolution brings relief and that itself is no escape. All this in one hour and fifteen minutes.

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Les Enfants Terribles – Opera By Philip Glass

Victor Cordell, For All Events

Opera Parallèle has demonstrated once again that it is at the forefront of opera innovation and risk taking in the Bay Area. Its production of Philip Glass’s adaptation of Jean Cocteau’s novella Les Enfants Terribles is a compelling, multidimensional piece, which sadly plays for one weekend and evaporates. A delightful hybrid of opera and ballet, Opera Parallèle adds yet another layer of artistry with the addition of film projected on three screens that enhances the storyline and opens up the otherwise spare staging.

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Les Enfants Terribles review

Caroline Crawford

Opera Parallele opened a wickedly funny production of Philip Glass’ opera “Les Enfants Terribles’’ this week–a short, punchy work based on Jean Cocteau’s 1929 novel and film of the same name. The narrative is played out by two principal characters, adolescent siblings Paul and Lise. The singers who portray them are mirrored by dancers costumed as exact lookalikes; whimsical documentary video turns around them.

The French do “dysfunctional’’ well:  the story is based on a real-life Parisian family who choose to be sealed off from society. After Paul and Lise  become orphans, they share a room and play out their fantasies, adolescents entirely self-absorbed, caring for each other, teasing, arguing, romping  until Lise grows tired of being cooped up in this Proustian setup. She  seeks a job as a model and marries, and eventually sabotages Paul’s love relationship, which assures that they will end up spending their lives together.  The opera does not have a happy ending.

Glass’ vigorous score, performed on three Steinway grands by pianists Kevin Korth, Keisuke Nakagoshi and Eva-Maria Zimmermann, was  conducted by company artistic director Nicole Paiement in her usual vibrant fashion. The music drives relentlessly to crashing crescendos or whispers down into Glass’ signature repetitive phrase. Brian Staufenbiel’s direction, Amy Seiwert’s choreography and David Murakami’s projections worked precisely with Glass’  music so that the opera rolled by seamlessly at a breakneck pace for all of its ninety minutes.

Welsh-born soprano Rachel Schutz and New Zealand baritone Hadleigh Adams offered  brilliant portrayals of Lise and Paul. Schutz can make her voice strident and arch when called for or elicit brilliant coloratura sounds, and Adams captures adolescent voice and physicality in an uncannily true manner. Onstage at all times, the two never have a breather, their roles calling not only for strong voices but compelling dramatic presences. Tenor Andres Ramirez sang the role of Lise and Paul’s friend Gerard and mezzo-soprano Kindra  Scharich was the sturdy-voiced Agathe  who wins Paul’s heart.

Dancers Steffi Cheong and Brett Conway danced with shining form and stellar drama.

The four performances took place at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.