Midd Opera Co. is terrific

Opera Company of Middlebury last week presented its fifth production of opera in the person of Puccinis La Bohè­¥, making it the first relatively complete version of a Grand Opera. Their first presentation was Bizets Carmen in an edited edition, which worked really well, given the fact that the original production had spoken recitative. The second production name brought forth was also Puccini: Tosca, in a cut down version that made this skeptic a believer. It was ingenious. There followed two productions of less-Grand Operas which made audiences stand up and roar with approval. On opening night, Aug. 18, there was no dearth of approval from the audience, including much applause, some of it in appropriate places, says this Grinch, and some shouting of approval. Even the pantomime rolls of some of the smaller children were applauded. There is, however, in the midst of the festivities, an opportunity to produce a more sober balance sheet, unmoved by the music and the excitement. On the plus side: superb casting, I forgive tenor Richard Furman his several difficulties with approaches to high notes, because during the rest of the opera, especially when he was engaged in acting the part and not worrying about high Cs and audiences indulged by Pavarotti et al., he looked and acted the way Rodolfo should look but seldom does. His interplay with Mimi in the first act was wonderful. Which brings us to the second asset of the production: Suzanne Merrill as Mimi, who was as thoughtful a singer as Ive had the pleasure to witness for quite some time. Even in her third act apostrophes to gatekeepers etc., who were not visible, she was sterling. She handled the vocal difficulties with apparent ease, and she was a joy to watch and hear throughout the opera. The third wonderful gift was the Marcello of Daniel Klein, who mastered sitting on stage with his back to the conductor and keeping exact time with him. He had perhaps the richest voice of the evening, and he certainly has all the earmarks of a major career, God and the theater impresarios willing. His was one of the more thoughtful Marcellos that Ive ever had the good fortune to see and hear. Next in line for compliments was Joshua Sekoski, who yielded as much from the part of Colline as one could well wish for. Wendy Hoffman Farrell seemed just right as Musetta, except with some of the other principals, she too suffered slightly from the malady of famous-aria-itis, which in Farrell's case translated to a slightly uncontrolled vibrato. Her third and fourth facts were exactly correct and right and wonderful. She acted with spirit throughout the performance. Adam Margulies was Schaunard, Stephen Lavonier was Benlit/Alcindoro, and Justin Bouvier was Parpignol. On the plus side also: the stage direction of director Douglas Anderson, who knows how to find the most natural and yet most apposite way to deal with emotions and the people who sing and speak them on stage. He is a veritable Vesuvius of stagecraft, and the first, third and fourth acts were marvels of subtle interplay, which is well-chosen cast was able to communicate to the audience. That he stumbled in his choices for the second act simply puts him as part of all long line of people, because the second act is Puccinis answer save for Turandot to a Parisian triumphal scene. There was a great deal of subtle interplay between the main characters even then, but the children and Parpignol seemed out of place despite the fact that they have music especially Parpignol, whose two direct approaches to the audience were totally meaningless, as well as the entrance of the children in pantomime before the music started for act two. On the negative side of the ledger was not the playing of the orchestra or the conducting of the orchestra by Jeff Buettner, but the cut-down of the orchestral size, which was dictated in no particular order by size of space and finances. When the emotions were not in the singers, it should have been in the orchestra. The choice of instruments to use and the thinness of the sometime transition passages caused sections of the first act especially to sound as though someone had arbitrarily gone through and taken notes out of the score with malice and forethought. There was minor devastation to the emotions conveyed by the orchestra because of this cutting. Everything Puccini wrote may not be on the scale of Turandot, but if memory serves, the British critic Andrew Porter engaged in some very tough words with Ricordi over the fact that the original scorings of some of Puccinis work had been augmented, and could not be found in the original manuscripts in the Ricordi vaults. Be that as it may, with that one negative factor, and some slightly injudicious additions to the performance as mentioned above, this was a really terrific production. For the future, now that they are in their new home, they should look for operas that would score in a way that they could fit all the important instrumental parts into their orchestral space. They will have to think less with their hearts and more with their minds. If they do that, I think they might become a Vermont treasure. If, further, they can arrange to bring young singers and resident choruses in for a longer rehearsal period, then productions can be even more finely tuned. I believe in Douglas Anderson, because I have seen the fruits of his labor for the past four out of five years. He apparently also has a very willing board. May their conjoining give us in Vermont many further years of this quality of performance. Burlington resident Dan Wolfe observes and critiques the local arts scene for the Times Sentinel. His column appears weekly.

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