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Opera Review : Pippin & Co. At Cal State Long Beach

October 07, 1985|DANIEL CARIAGA | Times Music Writer

In San Francisco, where it continues to thrive after nearly a decade, Pocket Opera is an institution. Presided over by impresario/translator/pianist Donald Pippin, the minicompany performs small-scale operatic fare in small auditoria, usually assisted by its nine-player Pocket Philharmonic, but without scenery, and with the singers holding their scores.

On the road, as the 24-member troupe is this month, rich and fashionable costuming, plus appropriate lighting and semi-staging, must substitute for sets. And, together with brave and confident singing, they create a pleasing, if actually incomplete, operatic experience.

As seen at Cal State Long Beach on Friday night, at the first of three local appearances (the last one is Wednesday night at UC Irvine), the Pocket Opera experience can be highly amusing. Pippin's expert and witty English adaptation of Offenbach's "Orpheus in the Underworld" enjoyed a musically honest, vocally adequate and comedically on-target performance.

Which is not to say that the 14 Bay Area singers in the present cast show unlimited promise. For the most part, they prove the musical truth in the Peter principle.

Nor can one conscientiously praise the ragtag, ill-tuned, onstage nonet of instrumentalists who bring little style, and even less panache, to Offenbach's irresistible score; they seem, more often than not, poorly equipped for their musical duties. At least part of the problem is Pippin's failure to conduct; the company founder, as far as one can see or hear, merely sits at the piano, smiles and plays. Real leadership is missing.

Still, the results are sometimes Offenbachian, if haphazard. Among the stronger singers Friday were one operatic veteran, Donna Petersen (Public Opinion), and five comers: David Tigner (Jupiter), Diane Gilfether (Euridice), Vicki Shaghoian (Cupid), Girard Rhoden (Pluto) and Linda Caple (Venus).

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