Category Archives: Festival Opera

Voices in ‘Siege’ Set Glimmerglass Stage Spinning

Operatoonity.com reviewThe Siege of Calais presented by Glimmerglass Festival
Live performance: Monday, July 24, 1:30 p.m.
Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York
Music: Gaetano Donizetti
Libretto: Salvadore Cammarano
3.5 out of 5.0 stars

 

 

The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2017 production of the American premiere of Donizetti’s “The Siege of Calais.” Photo: Carrington Spires/The Glimmerglass Festival

This summer Glimmerglass Festival took on a seldom-seen Donizetti work, The Siege of Calais. To their credit, the production dramatically underscored the centuries’ old adage: “War is Hell,” famously attributed to General Sherman during the U.S. Civil War. How many times has that sentiment been uttered by not-so-famous conquerors and conquests alike? Many of us are thankfully spared the scope of war’s true horrors.

The Festival’s Calais reminds us the devastation caused by war is as real today as when that siege occurred on the port city on the Northern coast of France during 14th century. Director Francesca Zambello sought to connect the crisis in medieval Calais to war-torn Syria in this century. A blockade ordered by Edward III resulted in besieged civilians lived in abject agony with no fresh food or water–some of who resisted, many of whom had no hope. Her association was apt and the message received.

“The Siege of Calais” | Photo: Carrington Spires/The Glimmerglass Festival

The functionality of the spinning set mirrored the vicious cycle that ensnares those living in war-torn towns and cities, past and present. A towering ruin slowly whirled around to reveal the bombed-out shell of a building, just different faces of the structure depending on the degree of rotation. Each turn showed the audience facets of a town where no one would have chosen to live but who lived there just the same.

The leading roles in this work were both sung by women, soprano Leah Crocetto and mezzo Aleks Romano, with Romano singing a trouser role. During the show talk, the presenter said the Donizetti, who wrote many more operas besides the ones most people know, always wrote to the talent pool available and that no tenors impressed him at the time. For that reason, he made the male lead a mezzo. The show is also not a prima donna-centric work–no opening aria signalling, “Hey, operagoers. I’m the reason for attending this show. Here’s my opening aria.” That choice made it unpopular and almost uncastable.

So Calais did not follow the expected formula of the time to attract the most highly touted sopranos in Donizetti’s day, but this production certainly featured a classically talented prima donna in Crocetto.

Leah Crocetto as Eleanora in The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2017 production of the American premiere of Donizetti’s “The Siege of Calais.” Photo: Carrington Spires/The Glimmerglass Festival

The garbage-strewn stage stands at odds with a bel canto style opera. It is Crocetto’s powerful and pure soprano voice that ushers in the bel canto, the beautiful singing, the opera requires. Her performance was rich and nuanced. While evidencing genuine despair, frustration, loss, and other strong emotions, her technique never faltered.

Aleks Romano as Aurelio, Rock Lasky as Filippo, and Leah Crocetto as Eleonora in The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2017 production of the American premiere of Donizetti’s “The Siege of Calais.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Cast as wife and husband, together she and Romano sang beautifully and believably all the music Donizetti created for two complementary women’s voices.

Aleks Romano as Aurelio in The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2017 production of the American premiere of Donizetti’s “The Siege of Calais.” Photo: Carrington Spires/The Glimmerglass Festival

A trouser role in a dramatic opera is a devilishy difficult role to play just right. As Aurelio, Romano had the appropriate amount of swagger and male physicality to suspend our disbelief that these two characters deeply loved one another as man and wife. Her voice was a strong and facile instrument, which sounded at its most beautiful when paired with Crocetto’s.

Young Artist Adrian Timpau delivered an outstanding turn as Aurelio’s father, Eustachio de Saint Pierre, mayor of Calais. He sang the role with gravity and sensitivity, never losing his conviction, despite the odds of saving his town mounting with each day his war-torn city is under siege.

Adrian Timpau as Eustachio de Saint-Pierre in The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2017 production of the American premiere of Donizetti’s “The Siege of Calais.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass

Under Maestro Joseph Colaneri’s baton, the orchestra is in fine and varied form–brassy and militaristic, and at other times, pensive and atmospheric, matching the emotions on stage.

In this piece, Donizetti opted for more ensemble numbers than arias, and all rang gloriously throughout the house. After all, resistance makes for impassioned singing and captivating choruses.

In sum, directorial vision was sound, the staging and lighting were arresting, and the voices soared. So, why 3.5 out of 5.0 stars? Sometimes, pieces fade in the repertoire because they should fade, because they are flawed. They lack excitement, memorable music, and sufficient onstage action.

A convention hailing back to the Ancient Greeks of never showing audience violence onstage, but rather, speaking of it once the deadly deed has been done, handicaps theatrical works presented in the 21st century. It may have been a convention honored by Donizetti, but it is far less appreciated by today’s audiences, sorry to say.

When the piece premiered in 1836, it included a lengthy ballet–a device Donizetti hoped would provide its entré to the Paris Opera. Thankfully Glimmerglass jetéd his ballet scene. If this opera tended to be dull without a ballet, imagine the piece with one!

It was a noble intention to breathe new life into this rarely done work. Sometimes good intentions just aren’t enough.

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Plenty of Glimmerglass Festival remains through August 22. See the Festival Calendar for all the events that remain this season.

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Filed under Bel canto opera, Festival Opera, Italian opera, North American Opera, Regional opera, Reviews, seldom heard works, sopranos, young artists programs

‘Porgy and Bess’ Rises up Singing at Glimmerglass

Operatoonity.com review: The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess presented by Glimmerglass Festival
Live performance: Saturday, July 22, 1:30 p.m.
Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York
Music: George Gershwin
Libretto: DuBose Heyward & Ira Gershwin
5.0 out of 5.0 stars

The 2017 Glimmerglass Festival production of The Gershwins’ “Porgy and Bess.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Glimmerglass Festival’s production of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, the quintessential American folk opera, had plenty 0′ everything: splendid singing and dancing, dramatic staging and lighting, stirring and electrifying individual performances.  In totality, it was the finest show I’ve seen at the Alice Busch Opera Theater in the last six years.

Artistic and General Director Francesca Zambello will often direct one or more productions during each Festival season, and she adapted her Porgy and Bess, conceived for the show’s 75th anniversary in 2010, for the Glimmerglass stage. It was an inspired, masterly effort–her best directorial effort to date at Glimmerglass. While I can’t say the opera’s book is the strongest I’ve ever experienced–the show itself is like a string of musical sketches set in Catfish Row, a shanty town along the coast of South Carolina, rather than a deeply developed story–the music is the undisputed soul of this work.

Early tableau from Glimmerglass Festival’s The Gershwins’ “Porgy and Bess.” featuring Musa Ngqungwana as Porgy | photo by Karli Cadel

The music is filled with leitmotifs drawn from all annals of American music (spirituals, Tin Pan Alley, folk music), threading the sketches and the characters together. We all can tick off the hit parade of songs from Porgy and Bess:  “Summertime,” “Bess, You Is My Woman Now,” “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin,’” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” a completely satisfying exercise and one of the reasons why the show is sold out for the rest of the season. Since Gershwin’s music drives the show, I’ll let it drive this review as well.

Only moments in, the audience is treated to the signature aria “Summertime,” a lullaby capably sung by Clara, portrayed by soprano Meroë Khalia Adeeb. What I liked most about Adeeb’s interpretation was that it sounded like a lullaby, not an operatic aria sung with a prop baby in her arms. She delivered a total performance as Clara–sympathetic and nuanced.

Meroë Khalia Adeeb singing “Summertime” as Clara | Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

The talented ensemble, also the strongest I can remember at the Festival, introduces the tensions and issues facing the coastal tenement through one blockbuster number after another. “Roll them Bones” sung by the men of Catfish Row featuring Frederick Ballentine as Sporting Life and “A Woman is a Sometime Thing” sung by Clara’s husband Jake played by Justin Austin were expertly sung and performed, to a person, in each note and through cleverly choreographed movement.

Frederick Ballentine as Sportin’ Life (right) with members of the ensemble | Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

I sincerely wish I had a photo to share from “A Woman is a Sometime Thing,” but there was none available. If you want to enjoy a fraction of the quality and flavor of that sensational number, you can watch a comparable version on YouTube from Zambello’s WNO production from 2010:

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Porgy was evocatively and powerfully sung and acted by South African bass-baritone Musa Ngqungwana. Because Porgy is crippled, the townsfolk are protective of him, yet he never takes advantage of their sympathy. I have seen Ngqungwana perform in his more formative days at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, where he received arguably the finest operatic training in the world. He imbued the role of Porgy with the same qualities he became known for years ago with AVA: sincerity, strength, and vulnerability. It was a tour de force performance for him. From “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin,’” to “Bess, You Is My Woman Now,” he gave each the perfect tone from playful to deeply passionate. Bravo, Musa! And grazie, Glimmerglass, for giving his gifts such a stellar, comprehensive platform.

Musa Ngqungwana as Porgy | Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

We are introduced to Bess sung by soprano Talise Trevigne in the number “Happy Dust.” Bess may be a once in a lifetime role within the common opera repertory. Not even Violetta or Manon has so many highs and lows, has so many facets to her character. Trevigne is exotic and untamed as Bess, without Porgy in her life. The audience sincerely believes her transformation to a loved and lovable decent woman and her beautifully rendered “I Loves You, Porgy” because Porgy loves her unconditionally.

Talise Trevigne as Bess | Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

The show was filled to the fly space with standout performers. As Serena the widow, Young Artist Simone Z. Paulwell’s soprano pipes blew the rafters off the theater in “My Man’s Gone Now”.  What a sparkling future this young woman has!

Simone Z. Paulwell as Serena, the widow | Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Illinois Baritone Norman Garrett inhabited the role of Crown, a larger-than-life villain, a character so evil you love to hate him. And in this show he gives the audience so many opportunities to revile him. Can’t be an easy role to play with overdoing it, but Garrett was sheerly and sincerely menacing.

Norman Garrett as Crown | Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Even smaller roles such as Peter sung by Edward Graves and cameo roles such as Strawberry Woman sung by  Jasmin White  and Crab Man sung by Chaz’men Williams-Aliwere glittering, no, expert turns in this show–all performed by Young Artists.

L to R: Piers Shannon as Scipio and Edward Graves as Peter

The best individual performance–hands down–goes to Frederick Ballantine as the devilishly sexy, almost otherwordly sinister Sportin’ Life, an alumnus of the Young Artists Program at Glimmerglass. He can sing, he can dance, and he commands the stage. I hope you give this young man a lead in an upcoming production (thinking Pippin here, Ms. Zambello). There were so many outstanding performances in this show, and Ballantine topped them all. “It Ain’t Necessarily So” brought the house down.

Frederick Ballentine as Sportin’ Life with members of the ensemble | Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Last but certainly not least, the ensemble in this show is the rocket fuel that propels the show’s plot and energy, coralled the audience’s enthusiasm, and made this the strongest production ever, in scene after scene after scene. Bravi to all.

The fabulous ensemble | Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

 

A picnic on Kittiwah Island showcased the talented ensemble | Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

During one of the many ancillary events–a set talk–one of the lead technicians mentioned that the performers need monitors to hear the orchestra. I am certain it is to the conductor’s credit that musical numbers involving the entire ensemble were the blockbusters. But one note to Maestro John DeMain. The orchestra was too loud during Porgy and Bess’s famous duet, “Bess, You Is My Woman Now”. The only disappointing moment in this production. Even the world’s best singers can’t outsing an orchestra during a love ballad.

As I mentioned earlier, this production is sold out. But you can enjoy the talented performers in other shows and venues this summer such as the Stars Night out events in the pavilion.

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Plenty of Glimmerglass Festival remains through the end of August. See the Festival Calendar for more details.

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Filed under 20th Century Opera, Best of Operatoonity, Festival Opera, Heartstoppers, North American Opera

Well, hello, Glimmerglass Festival! So nice to be back…

The Glimmerglass Festival Alice Busch Opera Theater. Designed by Hugh Hardy, the theater features unique sliding walls that open prior to performances and at intermission. Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Tucked away in a corner of verdant Otsego County along Lake Otsego, is a vibrant summer-only homage to opera and music called the Glimmerglass Festival. With each year I return, I try new and different things and take part in more of what Glimmerglass has to offer. For people like me who love musical theater and opera, it is “my corner of the sky.”

Yesterday afternoon, I had the privilege of taking in one of their ancillary events, and it was a privilege, believe me The event was billed “An afternoon with STEPHEN SCHWARTZ.” Schwartz is the award-winning composer-lyricist of GodspellPippin, Wicked, and the full-length contemporary opera Séance on a Wet Afternoon. For about an hour, he held court on the Main Stage of the Alice Busch Opera Theater, sharing introductions to his songs, mostly performed by members of the Young Artists Program.

Godspell and Pippin both hold special places in my heart. I performed in both and have directed a junior version of Godspell as an educator. They also presented material I hadn’t seen performed before from The Baker’s Wife and The Children of Eden.

Schwartz talked about how musical and theater and opera used to be parallel tracks for separate trains–my metaphor, not his. But how many young artists today can crossover to musical theater style singing. Case in point. Leah Crocetto, whom I last saw in Opera Philadelphia’s Don Carlo. She is a wonderfully gifted soprano, who belted out several terrifice musical theater numbers during this performance. Yes, this woman has a chest range, and she’s not afraid to use it. (Believe me, I appreciate that chest range isn’t the dirty word it used to be. I mean, no serious student of vocal performance was encouraged to sing in their chest range.)

The Young Artists presented two numbers from Séance on a Wet Afternoon, an opera I reviewed for Bachtrack in 2011, which I absolutely adored.

Séance on a Wet Afternoon is a two-act contemporary opera with music and libretto by American composer Stephen Schwartz

Even considering the numbers from Séance, the most enthralling portion of the program was when Schwartz sat down at the piano and sang a ballad from Wicked. This was a lifetime opportunity for the founder of Operatoonity.com, and I couldn’t stop tears from streaming down my face. Simply, a bucket list experience.

Tomorrow, I am seeing Porgy and Bess, featuring a very talented bass-baritone I first saw perform at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, where he was a student: Musa Ngqungwana.

Porgy will be sung by Musa Ngqungwana and Bess by Talise Trevigne | photo by Karli Cadel

I plan to attend the Porgy show talk which takes place an hour before curtain, and I’ve even roped my daughter and her boyfriend into attending as well. Monday, its The Seige of Calais followed by Stars Night Out in the Pavilion, a thoroughly enjoyable little cabaret, when the festival stars let their hair down and sing their favorite pieces–not necessarily arias either.

The beautiful grounds, the picnicking and outdoor cafe seating options, the opportunity to enjoy a glass of wine or beer at the festival, the acoustics of the theater in which every seat is a great seat are all reasons that keep bringing me back to Glimmerglass, year after year.

Glimmerglass Festival offers more than 40 performances of four operas each July and August. Productions have been presented in repertory since 1990.

You can fangirl/boy Glimmerglass on Facebook, follow them on Twitter at @GOpera, and read their blog. For more about the Glimmerglass season, click here.

Here’s a great little video on what it takes to put the Glimmerglass Festival together:

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Festival Opera

Voices Carry Droll ‘Sweeney’

Operatoonity.com review: Sweeney Todd presented by Glimmerglass Festival
Live performance: Saturday, July 9, 2016, 8:00 p.m.
Venue: Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, NY
Music and Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Book: Hugh Wheeler
4.0 out of 5.0 stars

4-stars

 

Members of the ensemble in The Glimmerglass Festival's production of Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Members of the ensemble in The Glimmerglass Festival’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Each year, Glimmerglass Festival organizers solicit suggestions for upcoming seasons. I suggested Sweeney Todd several times in previous years. Granted, once I learned Sweeney Todd was on the 2016 bill, this reviewer’s expectations were off the chart. Imagine operatically trained voices handling a score that can prove daunting to strictly musical theater companies.

And the sublime voices in @GOpera’s new production of Stephen Sondheim’s dark and tragic opus Sweeney Todd absolutely thrilled and chilled.

According to the excellent show talk presented by Principal Coach and Accompanist Grant Wenaus prior to opening night of their new production, Sondheim sought to create a music thriller with his grisly Sweeney–something to terrify audiences. Wenaus detailed numerous instances where Sondheim used dissonance, repetition, and irony to create a heart-pounding show.

When I closed my eyes Friday night, the new production was absolutely terror-filled. The accomplished singers delivered many times over.

L to R: Emily Pogorelc as Johanna, Harry Greenleaf as Anthony Hope, Greer Grimsley in the title role, Peter Volpe as Judge Turpin and Bille Bruley as Beadle Bamford in The Glimmerglass Festival's production of Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

L to R: Emily Pogorelc as Johanna, Harry Greenleaf as Anthony Hope, Greer Grimsley in the title role, Peter Volpe as Judge Turpin and Bille Bruley as Beadle Bamford in The Glimmerglass Festival’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

The direction, however, did not.

Director Christopher Alden’s wryly amusing concept didn’t cut it for me. Where was the alarming atmosphere, the mounting panic, and the overwhelming dread Sondheim has so skillfully crafted into the score and the libretto? The audience should be clawing at the arms of their upholstered seats as the story freefalls into the deadliest and most chilling of downward spirals within the canon of contemporary musical theater.

As a bit of background, I am overall a fan of Alden’s work. The Così fan tutte he created for New York City Opera was a “sardonic stunner,” according to my 2012 review for Bachtrack. I also delighted in the Don Giovanni he directed in 2009 for the same company. Surely Don G. has been produced tens of thousands of times since its inception in 1787. Everyone knows the tale. So, a novel approach is welcome as long as it serves the story. I appreciated the wooden-chairs-against-the-bare-wall controlling concept in NYCO’s Don G:

Don Giovanni, directed by Christopher Alden, presented by New York City Opera, 2009.

Production photo from Don Giovanni, directed by Christopher Alden, presented by New York City Opera, 2009. | Photo by © Carol Rosegg

I was looking for–longing for–something fresh and evocative for Sweeney to well serve a contemporary musical not nearly as well known to operagoers as Don G. I expected Alden to bring his A-game. But he trotted out the wooden-chairs-against-the-bare-wall setting again, to the detriment of this production, which merited so much more than Alden’s cheeky minimalism.

Greer Grimsley in the title role Luretta Bybee as Mrs. Lovett in The Glimmerglass Festival's production of Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Greer Grimsley in the title role Luretta Bybee as Mrs. Lovett in The Glimmerglass Festival’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

To its credit, the production starred the marvelous bass baritone Greer Grimsley as the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. He was everything Sweeney should be–a tormented, demented serial killer fueled by a bitter vengeance for having his modest world stolen from him. His operatic chops rose to the rafters of the opera house while raising the hairs on the arms of audience members. Greer’s interpretation, his immersion into character without sacrificing a whit of vocal integrity, was a tour de force, and one of the finest performances I’ve ever seen at Glimmerglass.

Greer Grimsley in the title role of The Glimmerglass Festival's production of Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Greer Grimsley in the title role of The Glimmerglass Festival’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

If there is a more beloved role in contemporary musical theater than Mrs. Lovett, I’d be surprised. In spite of the fact that she turns Mr. T’s victims into meat pies, the audience wants to love her. Mezzo soprano (and real life wife of Grimsley) Luretta Bybee look and acted the role–some fetching costumes were conceived for her by Terese Wadden. Sadly, she was not vocally equipped to sing it. One either has to have an enormous chest range to surmount the break between the alto and soprano notes or a very hearty soprano. Bybee’s vocals got swallowed up between the two ranges and was barely heard over the orchestra numerous times, which was not the conductor’s fault.

Luretta Bybee as Mrs. Lovett in The Glimmerglass Festival production of Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Luretta Bybee as Mrs. Lovett in The Glimmerglass Festival production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

The balance of the cast, to a person, was just outstanding. As Johanna Barker, Young Artist Emily Pogorelc’s rapturous soprano was perfectly suited to the sweetly virginal Johanna. I hung on her every note from the very first hearkening a caged nightengale in “Green Finch and Linnet Bird.”

Emily Pogorelc as Johanna in The Glimmerglass Festival's production of Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Emily Pogorelc as Johanna in The Glimmerglass Festival’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Another Young Artist Harry Greenleaf turned in a winsome and winning Anthony Hope. He possesses a rich ringing baritone. With his sandy-haired boyish good looks, he is every inch the ideal romantic lead.

Harry Greenleef as Anthony Hope in The Glimmerglass Festival's production of Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Harry Greenleef as Anthony Hope in The Glimmerglass Festival’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

As the show’s unabashed baddies, bass Peter Volpe as Judge Turpin and tenor Bille Bruley, a Young Artist, as Beadle Bamford, delivered star turns. I’ve never seen or heard a more believably tortured or chilling Turpin than in Volpe’s “Johanna (Mea Culpa),” which was effectively if sparsely staged.

Peter Volpe as Judge Turpin in The Glimmerglass Festival’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Two other Young Artists deserve special mention. Tenor Christopher Bozeka as Senor Pirelli and Nicholas Nestorak as his attendant Tobias Ragg, that is until Pirelli’s throat is slit, both contributed immeasurably to the success of the show. Nestorak’s descent into madness as the meat grinder was chilling, despite the bare stage and lack of special effects.

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Nicholas Nestorak as Tobias Ragg in The Glimmerglass Festival’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Soprano and veteran performer Patricia Schuman earned an accolade of her own as the Beggar Woman. I last reviewed Schuman starring in Powder Her Face. From the Duchess of Argyll to a bag lady. What a versatile actress she is!

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Patricia Schuman as Beggar Woman in The Glimmerglass Festival’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

One expects to see clever bits in an Alden show, and there are those, to be sure. However, there is plenty of comic value in the book, sans Alden’s campy touches. So, attend the tale for the voices. And plan to enjoy a glass of wine or two at intermission in case this Sweeney happens not to be your cup of tea.

Sweeney Todd runs in repertory through Friday, August 26. Tickets available at the festival’s website.

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Filed under 20th Century Opera, Baritones, Festival Opera, Live opera performance, music and humor, North American Opera, Reviews, young artists programs

Shimmering ‘La bohème’ Opens Glimmerglass Festival

Operatoonity.com review: La bohème presented by Glimmerglass Festival
Live performance: Friday, July 8, 2016, 7:30 p.m.
Alice Busch Opera Theater
Music: Giacomo Puccini
Libretto: Luigi Illica & Giuseppe Giacosa
4.5 out of 5.0 stars

4.5strslg

The Glimmerglass Festival production of Puccini's "La bohème." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

The Glimmerglass Festival production of Puccini’s “La bohème.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Glimmerglass Festival mounted a memorable tribute to its founding with a new production of La bohème, the first show the company ever presented in 1975. Those visionaries who believed summertime opera performed in repertory could somehow matter in a New York town only known for baseball would have and most likely adored this season’s opening production.

Filled with spectacle, informed by careful attention to the real Parisian scene during La Belle Époque, the 2016 show succeeded on many levels—for those who desired to wrap themselves in Puccini’s beloved melodies to those with expectations for a beauty and symmetry that Puccini himself envisioned to those seeking abandon in the doomed relationship between destitute young lovers.

Raquel González as Mimì and Michael Brandenburg as Rodolfo in The Glimmerglass Festival's production of Puccini's "La bohème." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Michael Brandenburg as Rodolfo and Raquel González as Mimì in The Glimmerglass Festival’s production of Puccini’s “La bohème.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Because this production was set in period, it is easier for the audience to accept the show’s many provincialities. Mimi is a seamstress who can only advance herself by foregoing true love and sleeping with a rich man. Musetta and the Bohemians take full advantage of an old coot’s weakness for a slender ankle and stick him with the check. Marcello and Rodolfo both bemoan the fact that women are somehow born to flirt.

Dale Travis as Alcindoro and Vanessa Becerra as Musetta in The Glimmerglass Festival's production of Puccini's "La bohème." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Dale Travis as Alcindoro and Vanessa Becerra as Musetta in The Glimmerglass Festival’s production of Puccini’s “La bohème.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

That being said, Director E. Loren Meeker has taken great care to render a La bohème that both suited the venue and that subtly acknowledged some of the most successful stagings of the show. Her vision for the opera invoked a transcendent experience while paying homage to the pageantry of the well-known Zeffirelli version currently in the Met’s classic repertoire.

The Latin Quarter on Christmas Eve | Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

The Latin Quarter on Christmas Eve | Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

While La bohème happens to be my least favorite of Puccini’s operas, Meeker and her production team elevated the show to an unmatched artistic level, and all deserve a hearty bravi. All operatic elements worked in tandem, most effectively during the Christmas Eve festival. The scene opened with a choral celebration, trumpeting the Bohemians arrival in the Latin quarter. The chorus under the skillful direction of Choral Master David Moody and Children’s Chorus Master Tracy Allen together with clever costumes by Erik Teague and choreography by Eric Sean Fogel transported us from a dingy garret to Gay Paree.

David Walton as Parpignol in The Glimmerglass Festival production of Puccini's "La bohème." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

David Walton as Parpignol in The Glimmerglass Festival production of Puccini’s “La bohème.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

As the tragic heroine Mimi, soprano Raquel González was ideally suited to the role. She had a shimmering, youthful voice that never lost its sweet tone, even while filling the hall during her first aria “Sì, mi chiamano Mimì” when she introduces herself to Rodolfo in his grimy flat. It is important that the audience believe in Mimi as a modest young seamstress with inherent goodness or the role can come off cloying and insincere. She was such a believable Mimi, one sensed the despair Rodolfo must feel having lost her twice.

 "Sì, mi chiamano Mimì"

Raquel González sings “Sì, mi chiamano Mimì” in Act I.

From his very first note Rodolfo, tenor Michael Brandenburg exhibited a spinto quality with a brightness reminding me of Juan Diego Flórez. Brandenburg’s tenor needed to cut through the orchestra which occasionally overpowered the singers, a problem I never encountered at Glimmerglass in the last several years and hope I don’t encounter again. (One does come to hear the operatic voices first and foremost, Maestro Colaneri.) While González’s appearance affected a perfect Mimi, because of his scruffy beard and lackluster garb, Brandenburg looked more like Motel the Tailor than that of the romantic lead Mimi falls for instantly. He did a serviceable job as Rodolfo, and I would be intrigued to see him in a character role.

Michael Brandenburg as Rodolfo

Michael Brandenburg as Rodolfo

Rodolfo and his flat mates Marcello, Colline, and Schaunard en scene were another highlight of this production. Though there hijinks were somewhat corny, their vocals soared. Props to all the Bohemians for the lift their vocal and physical energies lent the show. Young Artist Brian Vu was so energetic and gifted his every appearance telegraphed, “I’d like a starring role, please.” A special nod to Hunter Enoch as Marcello, whose baritone could be rich and bright and dark and bristling as the role demanded.

L to R: Michael Brandenburg as Rodolfo, Hunter Enoch as Marcello, Brian Vu as Schaunard and Ryhs Lloyd Talbot as Colline in The Glimmerglass Festival production of Puccini's "La bohème." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

L to R: Michael Brandenburg as Rodolfo, Hunter Enoch as Marcello, Brian Vu as Schaunard and Ryhs Lloyd Talbot as Colline in The Glimmerglass Festival production of Puccini’s “La bohème.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Young Artist Vanessa Becerra rendered my favorite Musetta ever. Not merely a scene-stealing minx with a glorious soprano voice, Becerra was entirely believable at the end of the production, giving comfort to her dying friend. Brava, Ms. Becerra. You were delightful.

Vanessa Becerra as Musetta in The Glimmerglass Festival production of Puccini's "La bohème." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Vanessa Becerra as Musetta in The Glimmerglass Festival production of Puccini’s “La bohème.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Though the Bohemians’ clothes are threadbare and the opera is done too frequently, the cast and crew of Glimmerglass’s 2016 La bohème have injected a freshness and a genuine affection into their version. It was as welcome and sweet as a frosty mug of birch beer on a warm summer’s eve.

La bohème runs through Saturday, August 27 in repertory with Sweeney Todd, The Thieving Magpie, and The Crucible. More information is available here.

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