Sunday, July 31, 2011

Everything About It Is Appealing

It's getting to be a summer full of operatic road trips. Your intrepid reporter and his bud hit the road once again, this time to spend the weekend with Debs at Glimmerglass. Well, maybe not with Debs. But Debs and I have a thing going on.  We've been sending each other passionate messages on Twitter for ages now. And of course we're on first-names basis. OK, everybody else in the world calls her Debbie, but I'm very special to her. Really. What?

So when I read that Debs was doing Annie Get Your Gun, I knew I had to see it.  And when I read she was doing a solo show called Voigt Lessons, I knew I had to see that, too. And when I found out she was doing Voigt Lessons on a Friday and Annie Get Your Gun on a Saturday, I had no choice. It was a sign from above. My bud and I bought tickets, arranged for a hotel room, and hit the road!  (More after the jump!)

Photo by Daria Acosta
Voigt Lessons. What can I say? Debs created this show with playwright Terrence McNally, director Francesca Zambello, and music director Kevin Stiles. It was a deeply personal show, a show of story telling and personal revelation, and yes, some singing. Debs shared stories about learning she had a gift, singing in her church choir as a girl and in musicals in high school, wedding her first love at an early age and staying with him for 20 years, having her voice take her amazing places and having her body keep her out of just as many places. She shared about losing weight, losing her husband, and her struggle with alcoholism.  

And throughout Debs sang songs that meant a lot to her. She entered with the first few strains of "Dich, teure Halle", but she halted the proceedings quickly, let us know there wouldn't much more of that, and commenced with the stories. She was passionate about The Carpenters as a girl, soaking up Karen Carpenter's smooth and creamy sound. She adored the music in her Baptist church choir. Debs spoke of singing "Edelweiss" for her grandfather, and when she sang the song for us I was spellbound, unable to move, even to brush the tears away from my cheeks. When her undergraduate voice teacher told her she was ready for an opera aria, she came to her next lesson with one picked out and memorized--Nessun dorma--but her teacher had something else in mind. She later talked about the little black dress episode (if you're not familiar with it, who are you and why are you reading my blog?), which led to talk of her weight and life in 12-step recovery for alcohol. This reporter knows quite a bit about weight issues and about 12-step recovery, and when Debs spoke about gratitude and sang the Richard Strauss song "Zueignung (Dedication)", I was again spellbound. I've sung that song, but never before has it felt so meaningful to me. Debs ended with the old gospel song "His eye is on the sparrow". At the first few measures I began sobbing and didn't come up for air until she was finished. "I sing because I'm happy, I sing because I'm free!  His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me." 

Photo by Julieta Cervantes
Courtesy Glimmerglass Opera
I can't begin to express how excited I was to see Debs in Annie Get Your Gun. I was delighted to read the favorable review in The New York Times. Glimmerglass Opera did it up right, in the grand tradition of great American musical theater. The orchestra was full size, the songs were in original keys, and there was no amplification. Indeed, there was no need for amplification, for all the voices could be heard clearly, and there was no problem making out the words being sung. Staging by Francesca Zambello was traditional. The show moved like a well-oiled machine, and the signs of Ms. Zambello's expert hand with groups and individual actor/singers were abundant. Dance numbers were not as  frantic as one might see in a Broadway revival. I loved how choreographer Eric Sean Fogel  gave strong dancers lots to do and made others look graceful, not awkward, when dancing.  

Several musical theater veterans were cast in supporting roles, most notably Drew Taylor as Charlie Davenport and Klea Blackhurst as Dolly Tate.  Both were a pleasure to watch.  I liked Peter Macklin as Foster Wilson--less so as Pawnee Bill.  The remainder of the roles were filled with operatic veterans and fresh-faced singers from the Glimmerglass Young Artist Program. Baritone Jake Gardner was an excellent Buffalo Bill, spot on in characterization. Rod Gilfry lent his mellow baritone to the role of Frank Butler.  Mr. Gilfry gives good swagger, although I would love to have seen just a tiny bit more  more charisma, more sparkle.  Although there were a few passages that were low for him, for the most part Mr. Gilfry acquitted himself well in the role.  

And Debs. How did Debs do as Annie Oakley?  Only fabulous!  Vocally she managed the role quite well, even though it's about fourteen octaves lower than most other roles she sings.  (Hypberole, n.  Exaggeration for comic effect.) Skill  and joy were equally evident in her singing, and also in her acting. Anecdotes abound about Debbie's great sense of humor outside the theater, and I was delighted to see how she threw herself into the role wholeheartedly, either goofy and tomboyish or tender and romantic.

When a girl has had the roller coaster of a life Debs shared with us in Voigt Lessons, coming from what we used to call "big numbers" in OA to playing Salome and actually dancing the Dance of the Seven Veils, she can take big risks.  I say this risk paid off in spades.  I love to see Debs on the opera stage, but this weekend's performances on a more intimate scale will remain cherished memories.

On Friday evening we saw a double bill of one-act operas, and on Saturday afternoon we saw Mr. Cherubini's Medea. I will write about those separately.

*That's a line from "There's No Business Like Show Business", which comes from Annie Get Your Gun.


Lucy said...

She sang "His Eye is on the Sparrow"? I'm not surprised you wept; I'd be shocked if you hadn't. I might be getting a teensy bit teary thinking about it.

So glad to hear "Annie" was such a success as well. I was pretty confident Voigt would be charming in the role; I'm glad to hear she seemed to be having fun with it, even if it is fourteen octaves lower than everything else she sings.

I'll look forward to the rest of your roadtrip reviews!

Will said...

I'm off to Glimmerglass this coming weekend and looking forward to it as I have every summer since 1994. I remained loyal even through a couple of seasons where a short-lived management stumbled a bit, but I am very happy that La Zambello has taken over.

I, too, will eagerly await your review of the two one-acts.

Taminophile said...

I liked the double bill of one acts. My review will be on within a few days.

vicric said...

Debs? 60 years ago, La Divina would have been Mary to you. Madame Diva Voigt is La Deb to me. Thanks for the review. More insight than from the NYT.