Surreal World Out There

New production of García Lorca opera is still a risky proposition.

What can one do with Federico García Lorca’s Así Que Pasen Cinco Años/Once Five Years Have Passed, a surrealistic drama considered so unstageable that it was never performed during the author’s lifetime? Answer: Acknowledge its beauty, accept the challenge, and adapt it into a more viable form — opera theater.

This is exactly what Oakland Opera Theater’s cofounder and artistic director, Tom Dean, has accomplished. With a scenario based on Salvador Dali and the Spanish Surrealist movement, the company’s bilingual, multimedia operatic adaptation of Lorca’s work plays May 3-26 in the company’s performing space, the Oakland Metro, 201 Broadway, 510-763-1146 or

“Lorca didn’t write Así Que Pasen Cinco Años with performance in mind,” explains Dean, who with David Barrows has cocreated the company’s original production. “He described it as a mystery play about time, written in prose and verse. It’s actually a piece of poetry in the form of a play. It lends itself very well to music because its poetry flows beautifully and is so full of awesome imagery.”

The writing’s inherent musicality springs in part from the fact that Lorca (1898-1936) was also a pianist who often wrote in symphonic format, constructing largo and andante sections within his work. Así Que Pasen Cinco Años reflects both Lorca’s personal struggle and the struggle of artists to live a fulfilling life within a hostile society. In many ways the play mirrors Lorca’s life as a homosexual raised in a repressive Spanish society that became more and more fascist as time went on.

“Lorca experienced many pressures, both internal and external, to have children and just be a regular guy,” explains Dean. “Instead, he fought fascism tooth and nail until Franco took over and had him killed.”

At the start of the opera, an older man tries to persuade a young man that everything outside his home is frightening and dangerous. He suggests it’s better to live in one’s inner fantasy world than to leave home and take action in the outside world.

This temptation is real for artists such as Dean. “Even if society lends a deaf ear to you or persecutes you,” he confesses, “there’s still a refuge within the realm of artistic creation. And leaving that realm can be risky. I could just sit at home and write music and not deal with anybody or anything. It would certainly be less risky to do that.”

Almost. In Dean’s case, even staying at home proved risky. Just as Lorca’s home was firebombed, so too was Dean’s live/work space. The much-publicized 1997 arson attack, intended for an adjacent grocery store, destroyed virtually all of the company’s costumes, sets, and computers, as well as many of Dean’s original music scores. But where Lorca was murdered as he fled his burning home, and the character in his play dies of lost love, Dean has not only survived, but will soon marry the company’s executive director, Laurie Zook. And Oakland Opera Theater, abetted by a commission from the Fleishhacker Family fund, has come back stronger than ever, mounting more frequent productions than before the blaze.

“We pride ourselves in creating fast-moving performances that can hold the attention of people brought up on television,” says Dean. See for yourself, starting this Friday night.

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