Monday, August 14, 2017

Höre ich Zigeunerweisen? Operetta in Ohio

Polish poster for the internationally popular Mariza
This past Thursday, I saw the closing performance of The Countess Maritza at the Ohio Light Opera festival, fortuitously located in my new hometown. (A synopsis of the work, which contains multiple disguises and mistakes in identity, may be found here.) My expectations were confounded on several fronts. The voices of Tanya Roberts, in the title role, and tenor Daniel Neer, as her ill-fated suitor, were welcome new discoveries to me. My impressions of the performance as a whole were conflicting; upon reflection, my predominating reaction is bewilderment. I plan to make a more systematic viewing of the festival next year (I arrived just in time for its final days), in hopes of fathoming its enigmas, for they are many. But of The Countess Maritza: I found it to be a frustrating performance. I would have been better pleased had it evinced less polish, less archness, and more heart.

Of the generic scenery I make no complaint. Indeed, a painted backdrop that proclaims, with studied ambiguity, "Central Europe," and a versatile Neoclassical portico that could probably, at need, also be the home of Major-General Stanley or a municipal building in River City argue admirable thrift and resourcefulness in a small company. But the lack of specificity in the performance was another matter. The choreography for the chorus was repetitive, and struck me as stereotypical. The fact that it was the closing matinée may, of course, have done it no favors. The principals, too, were obliged to stand and deliver with depressing regularity. Wide-eyed astonishment or naiveté expressed to the audience is simply not as funny, in such a context, as astonishment and naiveté behind an unbroken fourth wall. Among other things, the English translation by Nigel Douglas doesn't nod towards any mixture of Hungarian and German. It's praised in the program booklet as one of the best libretto translations in the repertoire, and I frankly shudder at the implication. The double entendres were invariably delivered with ponderous deliberateness.  I have decided to institute a standard test for all operetta productions I may see in future: do they have at least as much romantic and sexual tension as the classic film of The Sound of Music? The point of comparison was first raised at a Merry Widow performance, which also failed to meet it.

The orchestra -- to its credit -- clearly knew that sexual and dramatic tension were present in the score, and where. The harmonies and dynamics told us as much vividly, but I failed to perceive any corresponding urgency on stage. I would be remiss if I did not mention the dignified and impassioned performance of Alec Norkey as the on-stage violinist. Under the leadership of Wilson Southerland, the orchestra was cohesive, lively, and pleasingly nuanced at critical moments, despite a few issues of stage-pit synchronization. But this musical awareness alone proved insufficient, in my view, to save the dramatic tension.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Blogging Backlog: Einspringen at SummerStage

Almost an entire (calendar) season has elapsed since I attended the first in the Met's SummerStage series. I won't weary you, Gentle Readers, with a tale of my travails, but having moved and started a new job, inter alia, I've been fairly comprehensively busy. In retrospect, the evening's tranquility takes on something of the quality of an all-too-brief idyll. Several of the pieces, understandably, were drawn from operas due to be performed in the Met's upcoming season. Whether the others were chosen by singers or programmers, I was impressed by the judicious mixture of familiar crowd-pleasers and more unusual fare. This was true, I noted, for all the programs on offer in the series; I was delighted to hear the Cherry Duet and "Seien wir wieder gut." Although the singers were miked, this was better-handled and less distracting than in previous years. A quibble, for me, was the omission of any description of the music in the program. The glossy paper of the programs must be expensive, but I still think that two-line summaries of the selections' content and dramatic context and function would be helpful for the intended audience. I'm sure the Met has people on staff who could write them. I'd write them! On the evening, Mary Jo Heath presided, proving herself (excitingly) to be more than a disembodied voice, and the singers -- Susanna Phillips, Elizabeth DeShong, and Petr Nekoranec -- also glossed some of their offerings.


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