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Baritones, Bogeys Meet For 'Economic' Golf Opera

Scottish composer Joyce Whitelaw who has an eight handicap wrote score.

Gil Kaufman 

Il Giocatore ("The Player") tells the tale of a young Italian golfer, Giovanni, living in Scotland.

A new opera, Il Giocatore, set against the backdrop of a Scottish golf course and Europe's "new economy," will tee off Tuesday and Wednesday (November 14-15) at the Julia Morgan Theater, in Berkeley, California.

"I had an overwhelming
desire to write a golf opera and there was nothing I could do to stop it from happening," said the librettist Eddie Orton.

Orton is a San Francisco Bay Area high-tech investor and logistical systems designer. He is also producing his first attempt at writing an opera. 

"I had four drawbacks to writing this," Orton said. "I don't play golf, I've never been to Scotland and I wanted to set it there, I'm not an expert or anything at opera and finally I'm not very musical." 

The composer, Joyce Whitelaw, studied music at the Royal Scottish Academy and came to the project after Orton, a friend, showed her the synopsis.

"She really liked it, which was good because she's Scottish, she majored in music and she's got an eight handicap," Orton said. "She went home that evening and started working on the overture."

Il Giocatore (The Player) tells the tale of a young Italian golfer, Giovanni, living in Scotland, who needs to raise money to visit his dying father back in Italy. He and the owner of the Scottish manor take on two American golfers in a wagered game. There is also the daughter of the manor lord whom Giovanni is in love with as well as a Portuguese maid who is secretly in love with the young Italian.

But this is the just the outer layer to a deeper metaphor Orton, a baby boomer entrepreneur, wanted to communicate. 

"Europe is unifying and I find it is probably one of the most historical stories of our time, at least for Westerners," he said. "But it's not getting the play in terms of what it means. ... In my lifetime we've seen the death of the economic and social structures in Europe ... it's ended. And the only place for a unified Europe to get examples from is the United States. Like golf is no longer a game for the rich, it's a people's sport."

The main conflict, as Orton sees it, is a struggle between antiquated traditional values and an American-like system of market populism taking hold in Europe.

"Everyone associated with the old value system at the end of this piece, their lives in some form or other is over," Orton said. "The people [in the opera] who survive are those who understand the new Europe classless, technological, entrepreneural."

While these were the deeper issues Orton felt compelled to raise, he also noted that the piece is fun and accessible. "There's balls flying and great singing," he said.

The story builds to a climax as the Americans and Europeans, who dislike each other, continue to increase the wager. Giovanni puts it all on the line and loses not just the game, but his life.

"Giovanni is driven by the old European values," Orton said. "A system based on class, courtliness, learned behavior, gentle competition and a nonmonetary-driven appreciation of history. That's the system that's dying. "

Orton is already thinking about his next opera, set against the backdrop of a Chinese and American women's soccer match.

"I really like the notion of historical background," he said.

Il Giacatore will be presented for two nights (November 14 & 15) and the proceeds will be donated to the Boys and Girls Club. Chilean Jorge Gomez, who has worked with the San Francisco Symphony and Chicago Lyric Opera, will be performing as Giovanni. Estelle Kruger, of the Oakland Lyric Opera, will portray Giselda.


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