December 14th, 2010

Skylight Opera Company, “H.M.S. Pinafore”

On Sunday the 5th, we went to the Broadway Theatre Center downtown for the Skylight’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore.” G&S operettas are part of the Skylight’s roots, and they did honor to their background with this production.

The curtain opened on a beautiful set depicting the midships main deck and quarterdeck of the “Pinafore”, which was rather fancifully designed, but worked very well for the production. The Pinafore sailors opened the show with “We Sail the Ocean Blue” in what turned out to be the show’s most ambitious dance number. The sailors accompanied themselves percussively with mop handles in a fashion informed by the STOMP phenomenon. Much of the rest of the choreography for the show isn’t so much dancing as moving/clowning to the music, but that’s appropriate for G&S and works well in this production. Gary Biggle as Sir Joseph Porter looked very well in the role and lead the clowning on such numbers as “Never Mind the Why and Wherefore” with such panache that one overlooked the utter silliness of introducing conga/Macarena moves to the general frivolity.

All of the performers sang well, especially Alicia Berneche as Josephine, Captain Corcoran’s daughter, who has a truly operatic voice. I also liked the fact that Robb Smith as Dick Deadeye sang out strongly and clearly, without attempting to affect any kind of Robert Newton/Long John Silver growl, as I have heard some performers do. Other performances I particularly enjoyed were John Muriello as Corcoran, and Rhonda Rae Busch as Hebe, the leader of Sir Joseph’s “sisters, cousins, and aunts.” There were some fun bits added, such as the raucous crow call that always greeted the pronunciation of the name “Dick Deadeye”, which I think may be a reference to the recent production of “Young Frankenstein” and the “Frau Blucher” gag; and the way in which Sir Joseph and Captain Corcoran dealt with the seemingly interminable encores to “Never Mind the Why and Wherefore,” a custom I personally find obnoxious.

There was not a lot of emotional depth to this production, the emphasis being on the light, fast and funny, but that was more than good enough. It was a very enjoyable afternoon of the old G&S.

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Met in HD: “Don Carlo”

Saturday the 11th, we went to South Shore Cinema for the HD simulcast of the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Giuseppi Verdi’s “Don Carlo.” Sometimes referred to as the “grandest of grand opera” any production of this piece is a big deal, and the Met’s is no exception.

This joint production with the Royal Opera and the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, by English Director Nicholas Hytner looked and sounded excellent. Of course some of the sets were dark and brooding, but that suits the mood of the show. And of course, the Spanish Court wears mostly black, but that makes the red costumes worn by the Grand Inqusitor and by the King and Queen in the auto-de-fe scene leap out. Princess Elizabeth’s transition from the light gold of her unmarried state to the sober black of the Queen of Spain is also striking.

The plot is a fanciful take on the life of Carlo, Prince of Asturias, eldest son of Phillip II of Spain, who in reality had a sad, short, and sorry life. The story, based upon a play by Friedrich Schiller, makes the unhappy Prince a hero of romance. Disappointed in love when the King of France decides to betroth his beloved Princess Elisabeth to Carlo’s widowed father, King Phillip, Carlo, lead by his friend, the Marquise of Posa, decides to sublimate his passion into supporting the cause of freedom for the Protestant Flemings, who are currently in rebellion against their Spanish Catholic overlords. This brings Carlo into conflict not only with his tyrannical father, but also the dreaded Spanish Inquisition, which is intent on crushing the Flemish heretics. Being a drama, there’s a lot of musical sturm und drang, leading up to a famously ambiguous ending (although not, in this version, as ambiguous as some--).

The Metropolitan Opera orchestra was marvelously lead by young conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, a French-Canadian, and supported a truly international cast: Roberto Alagna (France) in the physically and vocally demanding title role; Marina Poplavskaya, as Elisabeth (Russia); Ferruccio Furlanetto, as Philip (Italy); Simon Keenlyside as the Marquise of Posa (Britain); Eric Halfvarson as the Grand Inquisitor (United States); and back to Russia for Anna Smirnova as Princess Eboli.

All the singing was beautiful; the acting not always so. Alagna, though vigorous, is a bit uneven in his level of characterization. The ladies tend to let their voices carry the action, except in a few crucial moments. Otherwise they are overshadowed by the veterans: Phillip’s conflict in seeking absolution for ordering the death of his son; Posa’s revolutionary zeal; and the terrifying blind force of destruction that is the Grand Inquisitor.

All in all a great, if long, afternoon at the Opera.

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