History shows that artistic geniuses are often high-strung, and this rings true in Michael Hollinger’s “Opus.” A four-member, world-renowned string quartet is about to prepare for a prestigious performance at the White House when its violist disappears.
A standout audition by a female admits her to the quartet, but she soon discovers there are many sour notes among the group’s personalities that she may not be able to handle. The Old Globe’s production of “Opus” runs through April 26 in the Globe’s Arena Theatre at the San Diego Museum of Art’s James S. Copley Auditorium.
The first sight of the minimal stage setting of four folding chairs and four string instruments on the Copley Auditorium floor might make one think what could possibly transpire here that would be so intriguing. With the final applause and standing ovation that took place at the end of the play I attended, there was a resounding answer - magic!
Elliott (Jim Abele), Alan (Jeffrey M. Bender) and Carl (Corey Brill) are facing a crisis in their career. Their fourth partner in their quartet is missing, and they must find a fill-in to meet their upcoming performance deadline. An ordinary violist will not do. These are perfectionists with unprecedented ears, who can tell a partner they didn’t poco retard a note or they needed to be molto expressivo.
The group is reluctant to try out a female, but when Grace (Katie Sigismund) looks at the sheet of music in front of her and plays like an angel, she’s in. Grace has heard about this group, even watched a documentary about it that revealed its intense personalities. She’s also worried about what happened to Dorian (Mark H. Dold), a founder of the group and whose shoes she is nervous to fill.
As the group prepares to play one of its most challenging pieces to date - Beethoven’s difficult Opus 131 - each practice session is fraught with more angst. Carl and Alan are very concerned about Dorian. Elliot, Dorian’s former lover, disguises his concern with anger, which begins to hamper the focus of the group. Pressure is already so prominent among the quartet that when Dorian returns, it could blow up in everyone’s face.
Hollinger, himself a classically trained violist, writes about a world he knows best in this 2006 Barrymore Award-winning play. His inspiration came from the renowned Guarneri String Quartet, which played together for 45 years.
What’s so intriguing about “Opus” is the underlying layers of the characters. As professionals, they are one unit - deciding who will remain, where and what they will play and even what they will wear. Yet each member has a completely different life situation that must be silhouetted as a backdrop to his or her career.
How these layers are peeled back is part of the play’s fascination. I also enjoyed learning some of the music lingo and getting a peek into the lives of how creative musicians need to be precise to a fault for their art. The fact that the actors mimic playing the selections of Bach, Beethoven and others that are heard is insignificant. There’s not one wrong note in “Opus.”
- Through April 26
- The Old Globe’s
- Copley Auditorium, San Diego Museum of Art
- 1450 El Prado
- (619) 234-5623,