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Photograph by Pat Kirk

High Notes: Sandra Rubalcava and Jesse Merlin star in Opera San José's 'Don Pasquale.'


Fall 2003 Arts Guide:
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Opera San Jose

IRENE DALIS, founder of Opera San José, started her first legend as a young but inexperienced soprano. At age 23, she made her debut in Oldenburg, and four years later began a long career at the Met and other major houses. In her second career with OSJ, now celebrating its 20th season, she is no less legendary, not only for running a successful company but for balancing the budget every year without fail.

Last season, that meant making major cuts in order to squeak by in the black. In reflecting on it now, Dalis takes a deep breath, then quotes Dickens: "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times."

But today, Dalis is absolutely crowing good news. The recently announced Packard Humanities Institute, run by Packard scion David W. Packard, has provided Opera San José with a $2.35 million grant to buy a building that will substantially increase the space needed by the company's scene shop. The need became crucial after the institute committed itself to turning the Fox Theater, two blocks away, into an opera house (and restoring its original name, California Theater).

Opera San José will make the move from the intimate Montgomery Theater into its new digs starting with the 2004-2005 season, but the new scene shop will need to get started for that next January. Why? Because the California will increase the stage size threefold over the Montgomery, in addition to doubling the seating and providing a real orchestra pit. And, no surprise, Dalis is also moving up into a repertoire that all this additional space will accommodate.

In the meantime, the 20th season at the Montgomery is also the company's fond farewell to a venue that has served its primary mission well: giving each young professional singer actual stage experience for a full year, under contract, with housing provided, and the opportunity to learn four or five roles within those laboratory conditions. This final season at the old house will include operas that have remained consistently popular in Opera San José's repertoire over the last two decades.

They include Donizetti's comedy Don Pasquale, Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, Bizet's The Pearl Fishers and Strauss' Die Fledermaus. The last program will feature a new production. The Pagliacci will be performed in tandem with Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana (a program to be conducted by George Cleve).

While OSJ's mission is unique in the United States, it has its precedent at the northern German company where Dalis made her debut. With determination, she is making available in this country the same kind of experience young professionals need in order to launch their careers.

"Singers can easily get singing lessons," she says, "but American companies have never supported young professionals with stage experience such as we offer."

The singers for both this season and next season are already under contract, selected for their compatibility with the four or five roles they will be learning during their year in San Jose. The caliber of talent has risen over the years as OSJ's reputation has expanded. For 2004-2005, Dalis has a stable of 10 young pros from all over the country eager to sink their teeth into that season's repertoire. While she has not announced it yet, you can bet San Jose is going to see a shift to more dramatic fare. Once installed at the California, expect the heavier Verdi and Puccini roles, and even Wagner and Strauss.

Scott MacClelland

Where: Montgomery Theater, Market and San Carlos streets, San Jose
When: Tuesday, Friday-Saturday at 8pm; Sunday at 3pm
How Much: $43-$63
Info: 408.437.4450; www.operasj.org
Tip: The major roles are dual-cast on alternating performances.

Sept. 6-28: Don Pasquale
Nov. 8-30: Cavalleria Rusticana with Pagliacci
Jan. 31-Feb. 22: The Pearl Fishers
April 10-May 2: Die Fledermaus

West Bay Opera

Where: Lucie Stern Community Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto
When: Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm
How Much: $43
Info: 650-424-9999; www.wbopera.org

Oct. 10-19: Fall Festival. Viva la Mamma! (semistaged opera); West Bay Opera Superstar competition; gala concert with WBO Orchestra; joint recital with Barbara Divas and Gabriel Reoyo-Pazos. Go to www.wbopera.org for details.
Feb. 13-22: The Barber of Seville
May 21-30: Don Giovanni

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From the September 11-17, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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