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.