by Lonnie Burstein Hewitt
|From a 2017 production at Arizona State University. (Jill Steinberg)|
|Detail: From a 2017 production at Arizona State University. (Jill Steinberg)|
It’s safe to say you’ve probably never seen an opera like San Diego Opera’s West Coast premiere of The Aging Magician, an amazing piece of theatrical sorcery that includes live music, choral singing, puppetry and stunning stage design and will only be here for three performances before—like magic—it disappears.
Originally scheduled for March 2020 but postponed by an unimaginable pandemic, it promises to be an unforgettable auditory and visual experience for audiences lucky enough to see it on May 13 or 14 at the Balboa Theater in downtown San Diego.
It’s the story of Harold, an aged clockmaker in the midst of writing a book called “The Aging Magician” while trying to figure out how it should end and how to make sense of his own life and legacy. The opera was originally envisioned by composer Paola Prestini, the artistic director of a Brooklyn arts center and multimedia company who is known for her innovative collaborations with poets, scientists and filmmakers.
Inspired by a short story about an aging magician by Jonathan Safran Foer which she read in an anthology of writings honoring the box art of Joseph Cornell, she invited the multi-award-winning writer/composer/vocalist/actor Rinde Eckert to write the libretto for an opera; he would also take on the role of Harold. Her next invitee was Julian Crouch, a visionary director/designer who started out as a mask-maker and puppeteer in London and built an extensive career on both sides of the pond.
I was already a Crouch fan, having seen some of his work onstage, including Shockheaded Peter, which has been called “a sensational work of theater, dance, music, cabaret, puppetry and circus that bursts with exquisite design” and was based on one of my family’s favorite illustrated children’s books, a delightful piece of poetic and visual weirdness whose title back then was Slovenly Peter.
I’d also seen two of the operas he directed and designed for NYC’s Metropolitan Opera on the big screen in “Live at the Met”—Satyagraha (about Gandhi) and Doctor Atomic (about J. Robert Oppenheimer)—so I couldn’t wait to see what he would do with The Aging Magician here in San Diego.
Produced by Beth Morrison Projects, honored for its commitment to commissioning and producing provocative new works of “indie opera” and music theater, The Aging Magician also features the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, a Grammy Award-winning ensemble of young singers conducted by Dianne Berkun Menaker, and the Attacca Quartet, formed at the Juilliard School and formerly Quartet in Residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And Rinde Eckert will be center stage as Harold, the role he created.
All in all, it’s a show you won’t want to miss, no matter what age you are.
|From one of the earliest productions at MASS MoCA Museum in 2016. (Jill Steinberg)|
May 13, 7:30 pm; May 14, 2 pm and 7:30 pm.
868 Fourth Avenue, San Diego
Ticket prices start at $45.