THE SF OPERA BRINGS, “IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE” TO NEW HEIGHTS…
Written By Andrew Somervill
As the holidays approach, most people either get jolly or emotional reflecting on their past at times and searching for answers to some of life’s biggest questions; Why are we here? Have we done enough? Does our life have meaning? These are some of the many questions that are posed in Frank Capra’s classic and heartwarming 1946 movie, “Its “A Wonderful Life”, about a frustrated businessman looking to end it all, until an angel appears to show him what life would have been like had he never existed.
The film has always been a holiday tradition and this past Friday, December 7th we had the pleasure of seeing the San Francisco Opera bring it to theatrical life and it was just a wonderful treat! The operatic version captured all the nuances, emotions and heartfelt feelings of the original film, giving attendees a nice boost of gratitude for life itself, especially in a World that sometimes seems to lack appreciation for the little things. Composer Jake Heggie’s score rang beautifully throughout the War Memorial Opera House, as conductor Patrick Summers led the orchestra and cast powerfully and with absolute musical grace from beginning to end. The main Character George Bailey, played by Tenor William Burden, was astonishingly precise capturing the spirit of the character in this somber tale of dreams abandoned to make time to work and provide for the family, paying back loans and trying to get ahead. Definitely a tale many can relate to and that pulls heavy on the heartstrings.
Other notable performances came from the female cast including George’s wife Mary, played effortlessly by Soprano Andriana Chuchman, as well as George’s guardian angel who in the original film, was played by an old man named Clarence. In this operatic version, Clarence is replaced by a female angel named Clara and played by Soprano Golda Schultz. Shultz brought such a tremendous amount of sentimental value to the character, with an almost angelic vocal performance.
My inspiration for Opera night on the town was to find inspiration and appreciation for the arts and of course to see how the opera would interpret such a classic big tale. Considering the original movie was over 2 hours long with a great plot and packed storyline, that was no easy feat. When I think of how synchronized all must be with the music to create the feeling of human drama in finding happiness and meaning in life, I realize that the opera really did blow my mind as they just nailed it perfectly. There is just something about opera singers that brings a unique and uplifting essence to every work and although the original film was a masterpiece, it can never duplicate the powerful and emotional quality that the opera brought to life on this chilly night in San Francisco. The performances took us on a journey back in time through the life and tale of George Bailey and all those that he came into contact with him during his blessed life and captured each moment intensely.
Many have probably seen, “It’s A Wonderful Life”, a 100x over, making it I’m sure a traditional watch in America each year. Believe it or not, being a Kiwi from New Zealand, this was the first time I actually experienced this story. Yes, although, I had heard the story in the past, I had never seen the actual film so for me, and possibly others in attendance, discovering this delightful film brought to life by the opera was such a joy. The creativity was beyond what I would have imagined, with a great set design that easily transitioned between each scene and each musical number.
In the end, I was left with a heavy heart, teary-eyed, but inspired that the human spirit is alive and well and the SF Opera really showcased that sentiment well, giving me a warm and gleeful feeling as the Christmas season approaches. Who wouldn’t love the opera after such a great performance and I’m looking forward to being in attendance again in the near future?