Magazine article Opera Canada

Little Women. (Opera in Review: Cooperstown)

Magazine article Opera Canada

Little Women. (Opera in Review: Cooperstown)

Article excerpt

With over 10 productions across the United States since its Houston debut in 1998, Mark Adamo's Little Women, presented by Glimmerglass Opera this summer, has become the opera flavor of the month. Adamo's style is melodious with modernist turns, and is highly derivative of Bernstein's rapture, Copland's Americana and Sondheim's infernal, internal rhymes. While the opera does have attractive set pieces, some of the orchestration is overblown and pretentious. Nonetheless, Adamo, who also wrote the libretto, has created a strong central character in Jo, and his libretto contains some very entertaining dialogue.

That the Glimmerglass production worked was in no small measure due to the charismatic performance of mezzo-soprano Jennifer Dudley as Jo, a singing actress of immense talent. She was feisty, frail, funny, dramatic, imaginative, tender, boisterous and sensitive, all at the same time. Her clear, expressive voice made the radiant heroine spring to life. Mezzo-soprano Josepha Gayer earned her laughs as tarttongued Aunt March, while baritone Jake Gardner and mezzo-soprano Marion Pratnicki gave sympathetic performances as Jo's parents. Soprano Christina Bouras, while a good actress, was just too weak a voice for Beth. Many of the cast members were from Glimmerglass's Young American Artist training program, and two in particular were very impressive. The beautiful, soaring voice of soprano Sandra Piques Eddy made her Meg a standout, while promising Canadian baritone Joshua Hopkins earned effusive applause for his lovely Goethe aria as Friedrich Bhaer, Jo's German suitor. Hopkins has a robust voice that is filled wi th personality, subtle yet strong.

Director Rhoda Levine brought out a delightful sense of ease and naturalness from her ensemble, and conductor John DeMain mined Adamo's score for its drama, the result being a bloated sound that disguised many of the composer's weaknesses in plot. Peter Harrison's revolving turntable set worked well enough for scene changes, but his stage pieces were dark and drab, as were Paul Tazewell's costumes.

For the production of I Pagliacci and Cavalleria Rusticana, director Robin Guarino went beyond mere pairing. She literally blurred their lines of separation and merged them into one unified production. It was an audacious concept that almost worked.

Inspired by Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author, Guarino created her own drama of ever-shifting reality and illusion. She placed Pagliacci's commedia dell'arte troupe in Cavalleria's Sicilian town. When the Pag actors performed their tragedy, which was first on the playbill, the cast of Cav was in the audience. But this overlapping was only the tip of Guarino's iceberg. The Pag character, Tonio, who gives the famous prologue aria about theatre mirroring life, was also the director. During the Pag overture, he rehearsed the Cav actors, and vice versa in the Cav prelude. Further meshing of plot and character occurred throughout. For example, during Cav's beloved orchestral intermezzo, Pag's Nedda and Silvio danced together in a memory of happier times. And the intriguing character of Tonio moved from director to something more sinister by giving both cuckolded husbands (Pagliacci and Alfio) their murder weapons. Thus, by the end, we were scrambling to figure out who was fictional and who was rea l, or if, in fact, the performers were all trapped within plays within plays within plays.

Unfortunately, Guarino's vision also included Brechtian alienation technique. Whenever the drama became intense, Tonio appeared, carrying a script and orchestrating the action, which diminished the emotional impact of the scene. As well, some of Guarino's merges had holes of illogic big enough to shoot bowling balls through, such as Nedda and Pagliacci reconciling and watching the tragic end of the Cav show together.

That said, Guarino's Cav and Pag made for utterly fascinating, if cerebral, viewing, helped immeasurably by John Conklin's claustrophobic, banked arena set, and Gabriel Berry's clever, colorco-ordinated costumes that differentiated Cav's peasants from Pag's clowns. …

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