Cooperstown

By Citron, Paula | Opera Canada, December 15, 2004 | Go to article overview

Cooperstown


Citron, Paula, Opera Canada


Glimmerglass Opera's production of Puccini's La fanciulla del West was a dramatic triumph, but a musical irritation and a visual disaster. Director Lillian Groag deserves praise for the passionate reality of the character interpretations, the relentless stage tension and a heart-stopping, blood-pounding finale that was as good as it gets. John Conklin's set, however, was an unworkable nightmare, while conductor Stewart Robertson was so in love with Puccini's opulent score that he forgot about balance between singers and orchestra.

Canadian tenor Roger Honeywell was the hero bandit, Dick Johnson, while talented fellow Canadian, baritone Aaron St. Clair Nicholson, was Sonora, the leader of the miners. The future promise of both good-looking young men is a slam dunk, but neither is really a meat-and-potatoes Puccini singer. Honeywell's voice, with its subdued middle register, is happier sitting in a high tessitura, while Nicholson is too light for this repertoire. That said, Honeywell has charisma to burn, and the chemistry between him and his Minnie, Emily Pulley, positively sizzled. He brings complexities to roles that other singers only see in two dimensions. His voice is clear and true, with powerful, robust high notes, and he is blessed with beautiful phrasing and fiery delivery. Unfortunately, while he nailed the money notes throughout, particularly in Johnson's big Act III aria, his middle and lower registers were lost in the music.

Nicholson is also a charismatic presence on stage, and an excellent actor. When he joined Minnie in the finale, begging the rest of the miners to spare Johnson's life, it was a moving performance indeed. Sadly, he could scarcely be heard. What Nicholson does possess, however, is a lovely, light baritone that is sweet, melodious and warm, yet very manly in command.

Soprano Pulley had the best sing of the evening. She is a wonderful actress, with a thrilling vibrato at the top of her register, astonishingly stirring low notes and a gorgeous arc of sound throughout. Baritone Earle Patriarco's Jack Rance was another miscasting error. He has a distinctive, honey-coated, creamy tone--also a lovely voice--and while he is capable of sound and fury in his acting, his jealous, ruthless sheriff was a paper tiger.

While Constance Hoffman's costumes were bang-on, they were lost in Conklin's complicated, multi-platform set, littered with mining detritus that allowed barely any breathing room, and ultimately became a treacherous obstacle course for the singers. …

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