ASR Music & Opera ~~ Rare Treat Gone Too Soon: Delightful Family Opera Buoys the Spirit

By Jeff Dunn

This summer, we’ve had hot and muggy days. But overnight, a front can move through quickly and by sunrise we’re treated to clear, cool air with gentle breezes. Such was the refreshing joy of Solo Opera’s production of The Three Feathers. With delightful music by Lori Laitman and a well-crafted libretto by Dana Gioia, this 85-minute fairy tale opera was loaded with eye candy and star-powered performances.

The story is from the Brothers Grimm collection of 1812 about an aging king (the resonant baritone Eugene Brancovenanu) who wants to pass on his kingdom to one of his three offspring who best fulfills a series of challenges. In the Laitman/Gioia adaptation, these descendants are princesses rather than princes. The youngest, shiest, most naïve yet loving daughter Dora (the sweet soprano Shawnette Sulker) ends up the victor thanks to an underground frog king (the stentorian bass Kirk Eichelberger) that she finds via her magic feather, along with families of rats, bats and snakes.

…The pleasures are many…

Laitman’s music was charming and superbly orchestrated. I particularly admired her use of percussion and brass. While the music was rich in melodic evanescence, I must admit to wishing for at least one substantial aria. Gioia’s text added considerable depth to every one of the cardboard characters from the Grimm tale, and it did so such that it reads like music itself.

The Frog King’s Court with the San Francisco Girls Chorus.

And three of these characters really stood out, doubly boosted by the talents of coloratura Chelsea Hollow as the frivolous shopaholic princess Gilda, mezzo-soprano Hope Nelson as the she-woman princess Tilda, and Sam Faustine as the Frog Prince. Hollow’s voice was thrilling in its scamper. Nelson’s no-nonsense athleticism and vocal clarity would easily land her an executive position in a Silicon Valley startup. Finally, though a late arrival on the scene, Faustine’s frog brought down the house. His transformation from an idiotic frog to a loving and still idiotic prince still brings me tears of laughter.

Sam Faustine as the Frog Prince

All of the above excellence was couched in the transformative projections and most of the stage design by Peter Crompton. (I, for one, do wish the trap door to an underworld from the Grimm tale and the 2014 Virginia Tech production could have been retained somehow. Instead Gilda goes through a vertical panel behind her father’s throne. C’est la vie!) Callie Floor’s costume designs were resplendent, and the respective stage and music direction by Sylvia Amorino and Alexander Katsman left nothing to be desired.

The Three Feathers is not just a zoo of princesses, frogs, rats and bats, As Amorino pointed out in her program notes. “The opera invites us to be more inclusive, open our hearts and minds, and work to connect with those who are different than us.”

Sadly, the last performance of this rare treat occurred on September 10th, and with this show’s departure, mugginess returned to the Bay Area. That said, if you ever hear of a company producing this show, “hop to it” and see The Three Feathers.


Jeff Dunn is ASR’s Classical Music Section Editor. A retired educator and project manager, he’s been writing music and theater reviews for Bay Area and national journals since 1995. He is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and the National Association of Composers, USA.

His musical Castle Happy (co-author John Freed), about Marion Davies and W.R. Hearst, received a festival production at the Altarena Theater in 2017. His opera Finding Medusa, with librettist Madeline Puccioni, was completed in January 2023. Jeff has won prizes for his photography, and is also a judge for the Northern California Council of Camera Clubs.

ProductionThe Three Feathers
Stage DirectionSylvia Amorino
Musical DirectionAlexander Katsman
Producing CompanySolo Opera
Production DatesSep 8th, Sep 10th
Production AddressHofmann Theatre, Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Dr, Walnut Creek 94596
Telephone(925) 943-7469
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?N/A