DOUGLAS MOORE'S CREATIONS, AS EVIDENCED by Boston Lyric Opera's Ballad of Baby Doe, call for no-demand, regular productions, and John Latouche's sane and provoking libretto is a resilient partner. Sharon Daniels' intelligent direction allowed the characterizations to emerge--when the singers felt free enough to act. James Maddalena as Horace Tabor gave a detached performance, although his singing was as polished as ever. Baby Doe can defeat singers who focus too much on her sweetness; Elisabeth Comeaux usually escaped this trap, and her vocalism was translucent, if too pretty. As Augusta Tabor, Josepha Gayer's voice rebelled near the top, her intonation less than stable.
Unfortunately, Michael Anania's sets--borrowed from Central City Opera--and Zack Brown's costumes--from Washington Opera--were too predictably a stagy version of the Old West, but conductor Susan Davenny Wyner led the production onto a higher plane of emotional challenge and understanding.
LOW-KEY SEEMED TO BE THE OVERRIDING motif in Lyric Opera of Chicago's new production of Bizet's Les Pecheurs de Perles. Part of this was due to the work itself; its charms can be considerable in a small theatre but it tended to evaporate in Lyric's Civic Opera House. The cast, except for Canadian Gino Quilico, was non-starry; the sets and costumes of Hubert Monloup extremely simple, though effective; and the staging of Nicholas Joel unobtrusive and at times non-existent.
The score used by Lyric had the familiar version of the male duet, but went back to Bizet's original ending, eschewing the interpolated trio by Benjamin Godard and subsequent murder of Zurga. While Godard's trio is negligible, the ending was weak indeed in its ambiguity. In praising the revisers, conductor-critic Will Crutchfield may have been right when he said, "Better is better," even if it is not authentic.
The tenor of Paul Groves was extremely lovely, as was the soprano of Maureen O'Flynn when she was not skirting the underside of pitch. Quilico's singing was also lovely, but the role's dramatic moments seemed to tax his lyric baritone. Canadian conductor Mario Bernardi did all that could be done to plead Bizet's cause, but all in all, Lyric's heart did not seem to be in the enterprise.
A frequent fallacy is that conductors known primarily for their symphonic work are ideal for Mozart's operas, but Zubin Mehta rode as roughshod over portions of Le Nozze di Figaro as he sometimes does with Brahms. This seemed to infect Bryn Terfel, who mostly barked his way through the title role, although his singing can be superbly refined, as he amply demonstrated in a recital just a few days before the Figaro premiere. Terfel was indisposed for the premiere and was replaced by the little-known Richard Bernstein, who had a complete and outstanding success by all reports.
Refinement was abundant with Elizabeth Futral's Susanna, Renee Fleming's Countess and Hakan Hagegard's Count. However, Susan Graham's Cherubino, also beautifully sung, was exaggerated in its manic, nervous characterization. Ryland Davies accomplished the impossible by making the usually irritating Basilio almost likable.
In Lyric's production of Madama Butterfly, Catherine Malfitano's performance of the title role was so powerfully sung and acted that she may have overtaxed herself, to judge by less than enthusiastic reports when she repeated it immediately after at the Met. Richard Leech's Pinkerton was below par for him, which also raises concern for vocal health. Three supporting roles were superbly done, however: Wendy White's Suzuki, William Stone's Sharpless and David Cangelosi's Goro. The conducting of Asher Fisch was sympathetic to the singers but drew little passion from the orchestra when it was on its own.
DALLAS OPERA'S TURANDOT SET FEATURED A great Chinese dragon that filled the stage, and designer Allen Charles Klein had it clasping, in its upstage claw, a great shiny pearl--the abode of Turandot. …