UCSD student Chamber Opera to premiere


Kallisti, the vocal ensemble lead by UC San Diego music professor Susan Narucki, will present the world premiere of “Noon at Dusk,” a chamber opera created by graduate students Stephen Lewis and his wife, Yi Hong Sim, 7 p.m., May 11, 13 and 14 in the Experimental Theater at the Conrad Prebys Music Center on campus.

This opera is the latest in a series of important premieres by Kallisti, which have included Viktor Ullman’s “Der Kaiser von Atlantis” in 2012 and Anthony Davis’ “Lear on the Second Floor” in 2013.

Narucki, who founded Kallisti in 2009, said “one of the missions of Kallisti is to bring new and distinctive operas to life.”

Kallisti has also staged classic chamber operas, like “Three Penny Opera” by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weil, which met with enthusiastic response.

Narucki explained that a “chamber opera” is similar to a regular opera, except that it has a smaller cast and fewer accompanying musicians. “Actually some of the very first operas, like those of Haydn, were chamber operas, put on in small intimate settings,” she said. “What I most like about them is that they give the audience a chance to experience the beauty and power of the human voice in close proximity.”

Narucki said she named her chamber opera ensemble “Kallisti” after the Greek “Golden Apple of Discord” (signifying beauty), which the goddesses Hera, Athena and Aphrodite fought over.

“What I wanted to express is that even though some music may be discordant, it can still be beautiful!” Narucki said.

Lewis, who is working on a doctorate in both musical composition and piano performance at UC San Diego, wrote the score for “Noon at Dusk.” His wife, Yi Hong Sim, also a graduate music student, wrote the libretto.

Narucki said this is the first time that Kallisti has presented the work of graduate students, but “that makes this collaboration very special and quite exciting.”

Lewis said the couple’s inspiration for creating the opera, “was born out of issues that intensely affect our lives together as we enter a very challenging job market and face difficult choices. But even as we search for our physical home, we have begun our creative home together in this opera.”

The opera is a story of two young couples at the turning point of their lives, torn between the lure of ambition and the ever-changing possibilities of love.

The first couple is Elliot, an entry-level product tester, played by Jonathan Nussman, who meets up with Lisha, played by Hillary Young, for a first date which goes very well for both.

But then Elliot is offered a promotion by his sinister boss, played by music professor Philip Larson, which would involve a move away from Lisha. Elliot must decide what is most important to him — his job or his budding relationship.

The second couple consists of a librarian, played by Kirstin Wiest, and an architect, played by Ashley Cutright, who’ve been together for a long time. But in a similar vein, Cutright’s boss, played by Tiffany Du Mouchelle, is offered the chance to design a building far away from home and she too must decide her course of action.

The opera could be classified as a kind of psychological futuristic romantic fantasy, set in the year 2030. Although it is a “new music” production, it is quite lyrical and highly enjoyable, chiefly due to composer Lewis’ admiration for opera greats, Wagner and Puccini.

The story has a sci-fi twist because the device Elliot has been testing, although meant to only photograph a person’s silhouette, actually captures their essence and turns it into a living souvenir!

The crew for the opera includes guest conductor Dana Sadava, who turned to music after earning a degree in engineering from Cal Tech. She is currently artistic director of the Pasadena Opera.

The sets and lighting were designed by Jessica C. Flores who said she will be projecting giant shadows on the stage by way of light passing through a “diorama” of the characters in the production.

Annie Le, a graduate student in the theater department, designed the costumes. “They are a futuristic alternative reality, creating a sense of allure and attraction in the dark world of this play,” Le said.

A series of background videos of close-ups of the singers will also be projected onto the stage, created by Jason Ponce.

Narucki, who usually sings in Kallistri’s productions, stepped back to serve as stage director.

IF YOU GO: “Noon at Dusk” will be performed 7 p.m., May 11, 13 and 14 in the Experimental Theater at the Conrad Prebys Music Center on UCSD campus. Parking is available across the street from the theater in the Gilman Parking Structure for a small fee. Tickets: $15.50. (858) 534-3448.