Saturday, July 27, 2013

Minor nobles and nouveau moguls

Ginger Costa-Jackson
Photo: Karli Cadel for Glimmerglass
On Friday, July 26, I saw my fourth Glimmerglass Festival Opera production of the season, a new English version of Mr. Verdi's early opera Un giorno di regno (1840). This very clever, very funny new English adaptation by Ms. Kelley Rourke from Mr. Felice Romani's original Italian libretto is called King For a Day. The story and style resemble those of Rossini opera buffa. In the midst of preparations for two arranged weddings at the palace of the Baron Kelbar (which weddings, of course, would thwart the desires of the brides), the King of Poland arrives as a guest--but it's actually the courtier Belfiore in disguise, while the King himself is elsewhere. Each character's approach to Belfiore reveals his/her true nature and motivation, and Belfiore manipulates them all to create a happy outcome. Did I mention Belfiore himself has a history with one of the potential brides? Hilarity really does ensue.
Andrew Wilkowske, Jason Hardy, Jacqueline Echols
Photo: Karli Cadel for Glimmerglass

This production, by director Christian Räth, designer Court Watson, choreographer Eric Sean Fogel, and conductor Joseph Colaneri, was brilliantly shiny and fast-paced, resembling a madcap 1930s comedy. It is full of elements I have often stated I don't like, such as updating the setting and using modern dance moves to 19th-century music. (There were no penguins.) In this case these things worked for me. It has been ages since I have laughed out loud at a live opera production like I did at King for a Day.

Of course, none of this would be possible without stellar performances. Ginger Costa-Jackson, whom we saw two seasons ago as Carmen, won me over completely by flinging herself into her melodramatic role as the Marchesa di Poggio. She is one of the arranged brides, a sophisticated young widow who is in love with Belfiore. As her character became more desperate and her comedy more physical--much more physical--her lovely singing became even more beautiful and dazzling. I hate to insert a small criticism, but Ms. Costa-Jackson's introductory aria, while quite nice, could have used some of that freedom and sparkle from Act II. Belfiore the impostor King was sung with gusto by Glimmerglass Young Artist Alex Lawrence. He was a wonderful match for Ms. Costa-Jackson's comedic talents, and the two seemed to have a delightful chemistry together. His singing is rich and pleasing, although one did occasionally desire more power from his low notes.

Jason Hardy, Sharin Apostolou, Andrew Wilkowske
Photo: Karli Cadel for Glimmerglass
Only three cast members were not Glimmerglass Young Artists--Ms. Costa-Jackson; Jason Hardy as Baron Kelbar, the patriarch trying to arrange all these marriages; and Andrew Wilkowske as La Rocca, a financier who wants to marry Kelbar's daughter Giulietta. Kelbar and La Rocca are delightful buffoons, and Messrs. Hardy and Wilkowske sang and acted them with great zeal and joy.

Sharin Apostolou, Jacqueline Echols
Photo: Karli Cadel for Glimmerglass
The Glimmerglass Young Artist cast were all every bit as delightful as singers and actors as the three more experienced performers. Young lovers Giulietta and Edoardo were played by Jacqueline Echols and Patrick O'Halloran. Both portrayed their roles successfully, embracing the comedy whole-heartedly and convincing us of their love. While Mr. O'Halloran did require a few scenes to be warmed up completely vocally, he was a pleasure to hear, and Ms. Echols was a delight from beginning to end. Joe Shadday deserves special credit for his very brief role as the aged Count Ivrea, the arranged bridegroom for the Marchesa. Ensemble member Sharin Apostolou, no stranger to these pages, also deserves kudos for her delightful portrayal of Baron Kelbar's secretary, an uncredited supernumerary role.  (The New York Times agrees with me on this.)

Regular audiences at Glimmerglass, lovers of Verdi, and even newcomers to opera--especially those who think they don't like opera--will all be glad if they buy tickets to this opera. A treat for the eyes and ears.

One more rave for the Overlook Mansion B& B, a short drive from Glimmerglass in charming Little Falls. Please click the link and check them out, and give them some business!

Alex Lawrence, Ginger Costa-Jackson
Photo: Karli Cadel for Glimmerglass

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