An operatic take on an American classic | October 6, 2023 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - October 6, 2023

An operatic take on an American classic

Livermore Valley Opera presenting 'Of Mice and Men' on Bankhead stage

by Nicole Gonzales

This month Livermore Valley Opera brings drama, talent and gripping vocals to the stage once again, with its production of the classic and haunting American tale "Of Mice and Men".

The Tri-Valley troupe is set to perform Carlisle Floyd's operatic adaptation of the 1937 John Steinbeck novella of the same name at the Bankhead Theater in Livermore during the next two weekends. LVO will offer a total of four performances with Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon times.

The plot follows two farm workers during the Great Depression, Lennie Small and George Milton, who dream of one day owning their own land. Floyd's rendition has become known as a powerful, timeless and engaging showcase of American opera.

"Set during the Great Depression, this opera is about a great friendship and a dream of owning a home and having something to call your own," LVO artistic director Erie Mills said. "Its themes include loneliness and despair, but also hope and compassion."

The production will act as the opener for LVO's 32nd season. The group originally planned for "Of Mice and Men" to be part of its 30th anniversary season, but due to COVID-19, the show had to be postponed.

Returning LVO performers Matthew Pearce and Robert Mellon star as Lennie and George, respectively.

Mills explained that the production shows off the capabilities of American literary and artistic talents, in contrast to the majority of operas that are Italian.

"The LVO artistic team thought it was time to produce an opera that is truly American, by composer Carlisle Floyd, considered by many to be the greatest opera composer from the United States," Mills said. "You have a great American story set to music by a great American composer. What could be better?"

Notably, Floyd once called "Of Mice and Men" his greatest operatic achievement

Marc Jacobs makes LVO directorial debut this season with "Of Mice and Men".

"It's a metaphor for the cruel fate that often hurts the most vulnerable in our society, whether they be undocumented immigrants or itinerant ranch hands in the Great Depression," Jacobs said of the production. "I knew I wanted to put the audience right in the shoes of the two protagonists, George and Lennie."

Jacobs shared that he met Mills in 1997 through Craig Bohmler, a mutual friend and composer. Bohmler, coincidentally, was mentored by Floyd while pursuing a graduate music program.

After being offered the opportunity to direct "Of Mice and Men" for LVO, Jacobs jumped at the chance.

"This is a piece about friendship, about loneliness and about man's cruelty to man. At the center of it is the love these two men (George and Lennie) have for each other," Jacobs added. "They are a unit and they have a dream. That dream is so simple and basic anyone can relate to it, to have a home, to be safe, to not be on the run. It was always about the two of them finding a home together."

Experiencing a performance of this production will be an unforgettable one, according to the director.

"What Carlisle Floyd has done is taken Steinbeck's story that most of us read in high school or college and given it music that takes the piece to a whole new emotional level," Jacobs said.

He added, "We know these characters; they're almost part of the American DNA. But the music makes us feel them and go through what they're going through. It's visceral. You can't help but be moved. If there's a dry eye in the theater at the end of this opera, I haven't done my job."

"Of Mice and Men" is to feature sets designed by Jean-Francois Revon and music conducted by LVO music director Alexander Katsman. The show will be sung in English with subtitles provided.

"One of my great hopes is that the public will realize that there is great value in American opera and opera in English, based on themes from our American history," Mills said. "This opera is a wonderful example of words and music together creating the drama. It is a great opera, and I hope our audiences will be moved by it."

Jacobs reflected that his favorite part of working on "Of Mice and Men", so far, has been interacting with the performers.

"Each one of them is not only a perfect vocal and physical match for these tricky roles, they are also all amazing actors. It's been a great collaboration," he said. "We are all in love with this opera and each rehearsal has been an opportunity to dig deeper into these characters. Every one of them has subtext and a rich inner life, and finding that has made every rehearsal so inspiring."

LVO newcomers Chad Somers and Veronique Filloux star in the roles of Curley and his wife.

"This is a chance to see one of the great American operas that is produced all too rarely," Jacobs said.

LVO is to host a "Season Opening Night Dinner" event, at Uncle Yu's at the Vineyard beginning at 4 p.m. this Saturday (Oct. 7) just before the first show. A separate ticket is required for this gathering. Show times are 7:30 p.m. for the next two Saturdays (Oct. 7 and 14) and 2 p.m. on Sundays (Oct. 8 and 15) at the Bankhead in downtown Livermore. Visit for tickets.


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