ON the Beat | Operatic High, Pow-Wow Power

Opera Santa Barbara’s Season-Opening 'Tosca' Delivered, and the Chumash Inter-Tribal Pow-Wow Returned

The Chumash Inter-Tribal Pow-Wow 2022 | Credit: Josef Woodard

The summary verdict on Opera Santa Barbara’s season-opening production of Tosca, last Saturday at the Granada: Touche.

Puccini’s beloved and tragic opera is beautifully sung and realized, resourcefully produced, and made for a perfect vehicle for the company that undauntable OSB director Kostis Protopapas has kept in motion through pandemic deprivations and is steering through a transition period. Normalcy and solvency, in opera as elsewhere in high culture, had yet to land, but this Tosca treated a nearly full house to a rousing taste of what makes live opera such a unique and satisfying experience. Done right, as it was here, it is well worth the price of admission (which, in the current case, is a flexible and affordable price).

Eleni Calenos, soprano, starred in Opera Santa Barbara’s production of Tosca. | Photo: Courtesy

Grand opera comes together with a hefty price tag, by its nature. But creative end-runs and resourceful thinking can go a long way toward effective expressive ends, on a budget. In this production, deftly conceived by stage director Layna Chianakas and set designer Yuki Izumihara, the stage set consists primarily of a large, bare metal scaffolding, which serves a post-modern multi-purpose function, referring to the opera-within-opera aspect of the tale about an opera diva. It also serves as a perch on which we find artist Mario Cavaradossi (consistently impressive tenor Adam Diegel) working on his painting of the Madonna in the opening scene, and delivering the famed aria “Recondita armonia” (“Hidden harmony”). Come opera’s tragic finale, Tosca literally exits stage left from the scaffolding. Exit is the operative word.

Another distinctive, and definitively contemporary, production element is the film aspect created by Zach Mendez, telegraphing abstract and peripheral visuals on a large screen. Protopapas lent his sure hand to the conducting task with the small, sharp orchestra, placed deep on the stage versus in a pit.

However interesting the staging might be, the power of its protagonists, as singers and actors, is a critical factor. This production was blessed with a trio of powerhouse leads, with Eleni Calenos’s Tosca winning our affections and admiration for her vocal focus (especially on the haunting aria “Vissi d’arte” (“I lived for art”), Diegel’s robust and empathetic Mario, and baritone Wayne Tigges’s menacing and suavely creepy turn as Count Scarpia.            

In this production, the second act’s waves of almost melodramatic emotionality made a particularly impactful point. The painful prolonged would-be seduction between Scarpia and Tosca, as her lover Mario is being tortured offstage (but observed in hazy visual suggestions in the film element onscreen), yielded to the sweetness of a hopeful lovers’ escape plan, before the dark denouement.

Opera Santa Barbara is off and running, scoring a hit with Tosca. Yes, it was grand, and gumption-filled.


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Inter-Tribal Fare

The Chumash Inter-Tribal Pow-Wow 2022 | Credit: Josef Woodard

From an entirely different cultural vantage point — on more than one level — last weekend was also the return of the Chumash Inter-Tribal Pow-Wow, after two years of absence during the pandemic. Moving from the former home base of the Live Oak Camp to a large plot of land just south of the Santa Ynez township, the Pow-Wow gathered members of various tribes, celebrating Native American culture with displays and contests of dance, drumming, and singing, and vendors proffering wares, food (e.g., indigenous “fry bread”), and cultural info.

We missed the Healing Circle, “Grand Entry,” and other events but made the trip over the hill to catch the tail end of the weekend on Sunday afternoon, in time to watch the “spectator’s dance” competition. Emcee Terry Fiddle, from the Lakota tribe, is well-entrenched on the “Pow-Wow circuit,” which was moving on to South Dakota, Alberta, Wisconsin and points elsewhere after the Chumash-hosted spot.

As the spectacle of spectators — of varying skill — filled the circle with gyrations to the music, the emcee quipped, “This is the only time we get to see non-native dance. The only way we non-natives dance is to go to the Maverick.” (The Maverick is the Santa Ynez “cowboy” bar, a few large stones’ throws away from the Pow-Wow site.)

Of course, this cultural tradition is one with much deeper roots in this region as well as what we now know of as the United States. Far from being a presentation of cultural exoticism, the Pow-Wow is “local” to the historical core.

As a send-off, Fiddle advised the crowd that “we came with a good heart and a prayer for everyone.”

The Chumash Inter-Tribal Pow-Wow 2022 | Credit: Josef Woodard

TO-DOINGS:

To an unusual degree, bluegrass has its days and ways this weekend in Santa Barbara. On Saturday in the ideal venue of Goleta’s Stow House, the Old-Time Fiddler’s Festival (née Old-Time Fiddler’s Convention) celebrates its grand 50th anniversary, with respects paid to the event’s formidable founder, Peter Feldmann. Meanwhile, the Folk Orchestra of Santa Barbara, boldly led by founder Adam Phillips, takes on the theme of “Bluegrass/Americana ” in two performances, Saturday night at El Presidio Chapel and Sunday afternoon at Casa de la Guerra.

Tonight (October 6), punk-poet-DJ-activist-prankster Henry Rollins blows into SOhO. Catch Trey Anastasio (from Phish) at the Arlington on Friday, October 7, or make a Dylan-sighting when the Wallflowers play the Lobero, also on Friday, October 7.

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